The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) have released new digital air cargo technical specifications guidance that they say will help to accelerate the transition away from long-standing paper-based documents.

The specifications, which cover three main documents – the air waybill (AWB), dangerous goods declaration (DGD), and consignment security declaration (CSD) – are the latest piece of work to come out of the Joint Statement on the Contribution of International Trade and Supply Chains to a Sustainable Socioeconomic Recovery in Covid-19 Times, which was signed by eight UN agencies in September 2020.

The digital stipulations for these documents, which include the alignment of form fields with other trade documents, were thrashed out by a team of air domain experts involving carriers, freight forwarders and experts in dangerous goods, safety, security, airport handling, multimodal transport and data digitalisation, in an open process that also included collaboration with industry bodies including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA).

Essentially, the stipulations act as a guide for how to create a compliant electronic document that can be used and exchanged between different modes of transport, enabling the necessary data to be placed into the relevant section on a document without misinterpretation and then presented in the exact way to adhere to any local, financial, regulatory or business requirement without modification or re-entry. They also provide for interoperability with industry standards that are already in use, such as the e-AWB, e-DGD and e-CSD issued by IATA.

“We have developed guidance for states and stakeholders wishing to digitalise transport documents while also enhancing multimodality,” Cortney Robinson, air transport officer for air cargo at ICAO, tells GTR. “With these deliverables, implementers and developers can create new digital, contactless solutions that allow supply chain personal to more easily socially distance, increase efficiency, share safety and security-critical information more quickly and reliably, and reduce the environment footprint.”

Numerous initiatives are underway to drive acceptance of electronic transport documentation within the global legal landscape, with a growing number of jurisdictions seeking to implement the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR). However, having the laws in place is just part of the solution, as Chris Southworth, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce in the UK, told GTR recently.

“In Germany’s case, there are laws in place to handle transport documentation in digital form but no clear guidance for industry to implement the laws. For this reason, electronic documents haven’t been adopted,” he said.

With standards such as these, ICAO says it hopes to solve for this issue, and now plans to carry out an outreach and implementation exercise to assist stakeholders within the public and private sectors with the deployment of the standards.