Dubai: Around 80 to 90 countries could offer a ‘digital passport’ scheme being launched by an aviation industry grouping along with airlines to speed up air travel recovery.
The ‘Travel Pass’ initiative will allow passengers to have a digital passport verified with all their pre-travel test or vaccination details to meet the requirements at the end destination. They will also be able to share test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate smoother processing at airports.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has engaged with authorities in many countries to fast-track this effort, seen as vital to turnaround the sinking fortunes of the airline industry.
“I've been really shocked at how open governments are to this and how much they're willing to interact with us,” said Alan Murray Hayden, Head of Airline, Airport and Security Compliance and Operational Solutions at IATA.
“Governments want to open up their borders here. We have a secure way by which they can do it. “But the one ask we do have of governments - if they need to issue tests and vaccine results -they need to issue those as digital certificates.”
The IATA-led initiative has the potential to pull the entire aviation industry out of its crisis state by offering a one-stop platform for all COVID-19-related requirements. “If passengers are arriving with bits of paper, we're going to be stuck in the same situation of queuing up for hours,” said Hayden. “What we're trying to do is automate it before they get to the airport.”
Qatar Airways is leading the pack in implementing the travel pass. Since March 11, passengers planning on travelling on the airline’s Doha to Istanbul route have begun trialling the digital platform.
“We are proud to be at the forefront of trialling this platform, being one of the first globally and the first airline in the Middle East,” said Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways Group, in a statement.
IATA, which is also working with Emirates and Etihad, has a six-stage plan.
“The first thing is we do the scope and then we work with them on the operational implications of that,” said Hayden. “We then work through things like the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) element, and that's really important because our system is based on decentralized identity - this is absolutely key.
“When a Gulf carrier comes on board, we run through all of this with them, and we hold their hand through the entire process. Everything happens on the passenger's phone - the test results are sent on the passenger's phone, and then the passenger is the one who shares it with the airline.”
Users will soar once passenger numbers increase on global air routes. “We're probably going to see significant numbers pick up around April-May. And then later on in the summer, you'll see really high volumes of passengers.”
It "is really related to the industry restart though.”