From a weak start to 2021, the latest IATA projections suggest air travel demand this year would be 38% of 2019 levels in an optimistic scenario and 33% of 2019 levels should travel restrictions remain widespread.

Though the slow recovery is bad news for the industry and the global economy, it does at least alleviate one short-term problem: queues at airport immigration are mounting. Heathrow, for example, has suffered from seven-hour delays according to some reports.

Nor is the problem confined to border control. As Alan Murray Hayden, IATA’s Head of Airline, Airport, and Security Compliance and Operational Solutions, points out, “airports are essentially operating with the same check-in capability but just 10% of passengers.”

In essence, new COVID measures are making it extremely difficult to process passengers efficiently. Heathrow’s situation is by no means unique as governments around the world implement a kaleidoscope of health requirements.

“The industry restart is simply not sustainable unless we automate COVID documentation at border control and other passenger touchpoints,” says Hayden. “This is why the IATA Travel Pass is so important.  For practical purposes, you need all relevant COVID documentation in a mobile, digital format.”


Airline responsibility

The IATA Travel Pass App will contain all the passenger details necessary for safe, efficient travel. It will inform passengers on what tests, vaccines, and other measures they require prior to travel, details on where they can get tested, and, most importantly, the ability to share their tests and vaccination results in a verifiable manner that also protects privacy.

The aim is to give airlines and governments accurate information on passengers’ COVID-19 health status and therefore the confidence that they can restart operations and re-open borders.

The IATA Travel Pass does not add any unnecessary data elements to promote this aim. It merely facilitates the exchange of information. Indeed, Hayden points out that government buy-in is not essential to the App’s success. “Checking a passenger has the correct documentation has always been an airline responsibility so IATA Travel Pass is good to go immediately,” he says. “Vaccination certificates or test results are just another check.

“Longer term, of course government involvement will make life easier, especially approving health details presented in a digital format rather than on paper. Border controls are saying they need certain information but are less forthcoming about how that information must be presented.”

The ICAO aviation recovery task force (CART) has updated its guidance for globally accepted COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates, including the technology framework for securely creating digital versions. These recommendations are now included in the ICAO Manual on Testing and Cross-Border Risk Management Measures. A recent IATA poll reported that 89% of respondents believe that governments must standardize vaccination and testing certificates. It will be a critical element for maximizing the benefit of the IATA Travel Pass.

CART, however, has recommended that travelers should not necessarily be vaccinated for international travel.


Industry solution

A full trial of IATA Travel Pass has begun with Singapore Airlines. Passengers on the carrier’s flights from Singapore to London can use IATA Travel Pass to:

  • Create a secure digital version of their passport on their mobile device
  • Input their flight details to learn of travel restrictions and requirements
  • Receive verified test results and a confirmation that they meet all travel requirements

JoAnn Tan, Acting Senior Vice President, Marketing Planning, Singapore Airlines, said: “Digital health credentials will be essential as borders reopen and travel restrictions get progressively lifted worldwide. The successful implementation of the IATA Travel Pass reflects Singapore Airlines’ goal of using secure digital solutions to verify health credentials and support a safe and seamless travel experience for our customers.”

Airlines in every region of the world are working with IATA prior to the official rollout at the end of the first quarter 2021. Travelers should be able to download the App from mid-March onwards. Once they have imported their itinerary, they will see the requirements, get tested, and then be able to incorporate subsequent results and documentation.

The IATA Travel Pass is built it in modules as an industry solution based on open-source standards. It can be used in combination with other providers or as an end-to-end solution.

“We will have about 90% of functionality initially but will reach full functionality in short order,” says Hayden. “We needed to produce the minimum viable proposition as quickly as possible and the functionality that will come later is about adding value. Everything necessary is there from the outset.”

The App was born out of IATA’s work on contactless travel, and specifically One ID, which proposes that a passenger has his or her identity verified once and then uses an associated biometric throughout the journey.

Identity management is a key ingredient in proving health status as already fraud—fake vaccination or testing claims—is prevalent. IATA Travel Pass uses a digital version of a traveler’s passport, which is critical to gain trust from governments.

Crucially, the identity management core is decentralized. Everything happens on an individual’s phone and they only share information when requested by the airline. A traveler has to approve the sharing and details go direct to the airline.

An airline advisory group fed into further development of the App and the aim has always been to keep passenger requirements front and center.


Overwhelming response

Challenges had to be overcome. The complexity of the technology underpinning the App and the immaturity of that technology meant a steep learning curve. IATA Travel Pass is one of biggest projects ever to use blockchain on this scale, for example.

IATA also had to manage expectations following an overwhelming response from airlines interested in developing IATA Travel Pass. Though all were singing from same hymn sheet and all provided essential information regarding different entry and exit measures, types of test, and national standards, it was nevertheless a mammoth undertaking to incorporate all the input.

“We must get people traveling safely again,” says Hayden. “We must give everybody the confidence that systematic pre-departure COVID-19 testing, or vaccine confirmation can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements.”

IATA Travel Pass will be a global solution by the end of the second quarter 2021. It is not intended to exist long term, however, and will be eventually integrated into airlines’ own solutions.


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