The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working to get its Airline Travel Pass to market, hoping to make it ready within a few weeks. Alan Hayden, head of the airport, passenger, and security products, is optimistic for a March launch. He thinks the majority of the world’s biggest airlines will use IATA’s digital health credential solution.
Airline Travel Pass
“I’ve never in my life seen a project move at such pace,” Hayden said during an IATA webinar. “We have teams of people working 12 hours a day to make this happen and to try to solve this industry problem,” he added. IATA developed Travel Pass in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They built it on top of existing IATA solutions including Timatic, a program that verifies passenger travel documents. Hayden said Travel Pass also moved quickly because it is an extension of the contactless identity application IATA developed pre-COVID.
Travel Pass features a mobile app that helps travelers store and manage verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or COVID-19 vaccines. It provides a secure and efficient way to store and verify COVID-19 information compared to paper processes. Hayden noted that the problem with test certificates is that it takes time for agents to verify tests given the proliferation of fake results. “Testing is very much like money – the whole belief in the system comes down to how much confidence all the actors can have in it. We need confidence in test results and vaccination results. Then we can start opening up the restrictions on borders,” he added.
Help in Operations
Evernym, IATA’s partner in developing the airline travel pass, believes in verifiable credentials. According to Jamie Smith, senior director of business development, these credentials are more secure than other digital document types. The data exists “at the edge” rather than in a centralized database. “Unlike paper, we get the opportunity to inspect digital watermarks,” Smith says.
“That means organizations can look at those digital watermarks and say, ‘Who gave this to you and did they give it to you and only you, and lastly has it been tampered with?’ And they can do those checks nearly instantly. That becomes really, really powerful,” he added. Hayden also said that the airline travel pass helps keep passenger processing moving forward. Airlines that carry only 5 to 10% of their normal number of passengers still need 100% staffing to verify those passengers’ test results. “That quite frankly is not sustainable. So using the electronic version and using the verifiable credential airlines can push all of this off the airport, so passengers arrive completely documented,” he says.
Airline Travel Pass System Has Four Components
The Travel Pass system has four components. The first is a registry of health requirements that lists travel, testing, and vaccine requirements for the planned destination. It checks whether the passenger’s test type and validity period fit with the itinerary.
Second, it lists the nearby testing and vaccination centers so passengers have access to labs accepted by the destination government. Third, the system must allow testing labs to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers.
Finally, the system has the consumer-facing app, the IATA Travel Pass, which stores digital versions of their passport and test results. Travelers can use this to share results with airlines and travel authorities at the destination.
“The key issue is one of confidence. Passengers need to be confident that the testing they’ve taken is accurate and will allow them to enter the country,” said Vinoop Goel, IATA’s regional director of airports and external relations. “And then governments need to have the confidence that the tests that the passengers claim to have are one which is accurate and meets their own conditions,” Goel added.
Singapore Airlines started using the trial version of the travel pass last December. Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air New Zealand are also testing the pass at present. By March, the pass should roll out to most airlines.
Reopening Will Be Slow
The airline industry hopes for the resumption of quarantine-free travel later this year. However, they expect progress to move slowly, even with the presence of the airline travel pass. In 2020, demand fell by as much as 70% worldwide compared to 2019. Most executives see between 12 to 24 months for airline travel to normalize.
IATA expects initial take-up of digital health passport to be slow:
Do you agree that IATA’s airline travel can help provide a safer traveling experience? Or, will additional travel requirements repost to even more delays in boarding? Let us know what you think about implementing travel passes on top of passports and visa requirements.