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The IATA Travel Pass details will be uploaded onto the app and the individual has the right to decide what info he wants to share. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Is it time you got your ‘digital passport’?

The Gulf’s Big 3 airlines - Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways – are trialing the 'IATA Travel Pass', which will allow passengers to have a 'digital passport' verified with all their pre-travel test or vaccination details to meet the requirements at their destination.

They will also be able to share test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate smoother processing at the airports. The IATA-led initiative - which will span airlines and regulators - 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.

What makes it better is that the travel pass is developed as an open-source mobile app, which means airlines can plug in very quickly, said Matthieu De Clercq, Partner in Public Policy and Economic Development at Oliver Wyman.

“They are not going into a closed source proprietary system that has a lot of complexity and requirements,” he added.

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What will the app do?

The app works much like a social media platform - users have to upload their details, which can then be shared with the airlines, airports and governments depending on their travel plans. “Once you have plugged that identity, you can decide whether or not you want to register your health profile or share your booking information with various organizations that facilitate your journey,” said De Clercq.

Etihad gearing up

“We will be starting the trial in March for a period of three weeks alongside IATA and our lab partners,” said an Etihad spokesperson. “The IATA travel pass will be complementary for use by guests and will be available for download on both Android and iOS when we start the trial. “Passengers will be able to use the app to find out about health requirements for their trip, and share certified health certifications and PCR test results with Etihad.”

Addressing a need

The pandemic has set off a lot confusion for the aviation industry. Some countries are not willing to let passengers in, while other stakeholders are not clear about their liability if some passengers have not met the COVID-19 requirements, said De Clercq.

This is a “platform where all the different players - from the traveler to the government to the private sector - can have more confidence in the value chain,” said De Clercq. “It creates a platform where each and every single person can come and understand the open source standards”

It is like the Linux operating system – a programme where the source code is accessible to anyone who wants it.

What’s in it for airlines

Apart from having a first-mover advantage, Gulf airlines will also be able to guide the development of the platform.

“The governments that work with those airlines … are jumping onboard the initiative - they will be able to shape it to provide feedback, and also make sure that it does not impact the traveler journey,” said De Clercq.

Privacy concerns

Cybersecurity and data privacy will be the two biggest obstacles to the implementation of the travel pass initiative, said De Clercq, adding that some regions like Europe have very strong data privacy requirements. He expects the adoption of the pass to happen one block at a time. It will start with Europe and then to Asia-Pacific and the Gulf.

‘Mentality shift’

“When they released the first iPhone, the number of people that saw a benefit to that was much lower,” said De Clercq, adding that people need to undergo a “mentality shift” to participate in a digital solution for travel.