BFS Front Cover AFL 116

Saving the World, One e-Airway Bill at a Time

BFS’ David Ambridge Leads the e-Freight Revolution 

The entire time that Mr. David Ambridge, General Manager – Cargo, Bangkok Flight Services, has been in this industry, airway bills have been used in air freight transportation operations. When he started his career in logistics, mobile phones were the size of business suitcases and personal computers operated on DOS operating systems which were stored on 5.5” diskettes with 180 kilobyte capacity. Since then, so much has changed. Today, mobile phones are as powerful as personal computers yet compact enough to keep in our pockets. Yet the air freight industry is still using the same paper airways bills that have been used for decades. “We have been stuck and have not changed in this business since I started in 1972. Telephones and computers have evolved, but the airway bill has stayed the same for 42 years,” Mr. Ambridge said. “An airway bill is like a plane ticket for cargo. Right now we can travel all over the world without needing any printed document, so why do we still use paper documents in the air cargo industry?”




Currently, global e-airway bill (e-AWB) penetration is at 14 percent, and according to BFS records there is only 5 percent penetration in Thailand. IATA has been very successful with implementing e-tickets for passengers since 2008, and they have an ambitious plan for fully paperless air freight operations, also known as e-freight. 

Mr. Ambridge shared his opinion, “IATA has a very ambitious goal about e-freight. My opinion is, just as the passenger side did with the e-ticket, we can promote e-AWB as an initial step towards e-freight. The airway bill is a document that is under the control of the airlines, and easy to manage, while other air freight documents involve many parties and will take a longer time and more effort to implement.”

There are some air carriers in Thailand like Emirates SkyCargo and a few others that transfer their airway bill data electronically. Some others still require legacy airway bills and a few even charge a fee to use e-AWBs. An agency, however, can proceed with e-AWB through BFS’ website free of charge and be completely accepted by the airlines.

“One problem I have found is that people do not see an immediate benefit in upgrading their system to support e-AWB. Therefore, they keep going with a 40 year old system. Because of that, we’ve ended up with a two-tier system where airlines with modern systems will go with e-AWB and those with legacy systems will continue with the traditional airway bill until they decide to change their own processes. I really think we need to do something, otherwise the industry is going to take much longer to change,” says Mr. Ambridge.

BFS Goes All in for e-AWB

Forwarders can visit our website and send electronic data into BFS’ system free of charge

Shifting from paper airway bills to e-AWBs helps save costs, increase productivity, enhance reliability and allow for total compliance with regulatory standards. Freight forwarders in particular can benefit greatly by adopting e-AWB, because now much of the cost associated with airway bills has been forced away from the airlines to the agents. The agent has to keep stock of physical paper, printers, toners and other materials to produce documents for every shipment. These are unnecessary costs, as 95 percent of the world’s trade lanes, including Thailand, do not need paper airway bills any longer. Thailand is 100% e-clearance and the paper airway bill is just generated as per tradition.

Under Mr. Ambridge’s leadership, BFS has been a big supporter of e-AWB. They provide a free portal for data input and even offer a discount for any agency that is willing to submit airway bill data electronically. “Forwarders can visit our website and send electronic data into BFS’ system free of charge,” said Mr. Ambridge. “Once an exporter renders cargoes to the forwarder, the forwarder will generate a house airway bill to the customer. Any cargo data they have to type into a paper airway bill, they can type it into a messaging system (EDI) instead and send the message electronically. As a ground handler, we would prefer that forwarders send the data electronically to the airlines.”

“On our website we have provided a channel for people to type in airway bill data and send it to us electronically, free of charge. We even offer discounts for customers to work with us electronically, to send us e-AWBs, but the campaign has not been very successful.”

“Moreover, we also plan to partner with two e-portal providers, offering shippers an ability to enter airway bill data through these e-portal websites. Although a small fee will be incurred, it is offered at a much lower cost than if an airline were to do it for you, which could be as much as EUR 10. Freight forwarders also have a choice to enter the data via our website free of charge. Whichever channel the data has been put through, it is going to result in exactly the same message, which is an electronic version of the airway bill. Then, if at some point in the process, someone needs to see a physical document, they can just print it out from their own printer.”

We are currently processing 22,000 airway bills each month. By eliminating just 40,000 – 50,000 paper airway bills per year, it would save us all a considerable amount of time and money

IATA has estimated that getting rid of paper documentation would save five billion dollars a year for the entire air freight industry and just by getting rid of airway bills alone, between one and two billion dollars would have been saved. For a ground handling agent like BFS, this would not only save money but it would also save thousands of man hours, as their staff would not need to manually enter airway bill data into their systems. Mr. Ambridge has even offered to push it further, “If you are interested in implementing e-AWB but are not sure how to do it, you can contact BFS, and we can guide you through the process. Also, if you are going to do e-AWB on a regular basis, we can send our IT team to provide support. For any freight forwarders and airlines that are interested, BFS is willing to offer our support to promote e-AWB.”

“We are currently processing 22,000 airway bills each month. By eliminating just 40,000 – 50,000 paper airway bills per year, it would save us all a considerable amount of time and money, so consider how much we could save by achieving 100 percent e-AWB. If we assume that we spend only five minutes shuffling and handling each airway bill, that equates to a potential savings of around 2,000 man hours per month, which is a staggering amount in just one cargo terminal. Multiply that by the thousands of cargo terminals around the globe and I think everyone will see the huge potential in removing unnecessary paper from our industry. The potential savings for the global forwarders mirror, and even possibly exceed, the savings for ground handling agents.”


“Currently, Emirates, Swiss, AF-KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways submit e-AWB to us. On the other side of the spectrum, we have some agents that still fill out airway bills with a typewriter, so we keep two typewriters at BFS to serve them. Then we have to re-input the data into our system.


“Everyone who adopts e-AWB can benefit from using it: agents, airlines and ground handlers. If we really can save five billion dollars by switching to e-freight, of course we can reduce our costs and even reduce the service fees for our customers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

Adopting e-AWB is a cost-saving measure for the air cargo business, an industry which has been facing small profit margins for a certain period. While there is still a long way to go and plenty of work for IATA and their members to do to encourage the industry to make this change, Mr. David Ambridge and Bangkok Flight Services are working hard to ensure that the Thai air cargo industry will not be left behind and will be among the first to reap the benefits of using e-AWB.