International Air Transport Association plans health passport to fly during the pandemic

An airline group is in the final stages of developing a digital health pass it says will help open borders safely.

The International Air Transport Association says its Travel Pass will manage and verify the secure flow of necessary Covid-19 testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travellers.

Governments are beginning to use testing as a means of limiting the risks of Covid-19 importation when re-opening their borders to travellers without quarantine measures and the association says a health passport trial could be done later this year.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was talking to other countries about an international system to have people certifiably vaccinated.

“We do need to know if someone has been vaccinated or not. We would want to know that as part of our overall protection measures. I imagine that is going to be the subject of a lot of diplomatic discussions.”

The idea of health passports has been around for decades with several African countries still requiring proof of Yellow Fever vaccinations issued by an accredited centre.

There has been conflicting evidence about the Covid safety of air travel and plans for the health passport were announced as Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said his airline would insist passengers on international flights would need to have been vaccinated.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers, we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” Joyce told Channel 9 in Australia.

“I think that’s going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe.”

The pandemic has forced IATA to hold its showpiece annual meeting virtually — instead of Amsterdam as planned — and released details of its passport plans overnight. Airlines have been rocked by the pandemic with some failing and many others dependent on government support to prop them up. Airline capacity is half what it was a year ago.

The pass incorporates four open-sourced and interoperable parts which can be combined:

• A global registry of health requirements — enables passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey.

• A global registry of testing/vaccination centre — enables passengers to find testing centre and labs at their departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination.

• A lab app — enables authorised labs and test centres to securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers.

• Contactless travel app — enables passengers to create a ‘digital passport’, receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel.

This app can also be used by travellers to manage travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout their journey, improving travel experience.

The association says it is working with the International Airlines Group (IAG) in the development of the digital passport and will undertake a trial to demonstrate that this platform combined with Covid-19 testing can reopen international travel and replace quarantine.

IATA is calling for systematic Covid-19testing of all international travellers and the infrastructure was needed to enable this must support:

• Governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates.
• Airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel.
• Laboratories with the means to issue digital certificates to passengers that will be recognised by governments.
• Travellers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief executive said borders were double locked now.

”Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveller identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of IATA Travel Pass,” he said.

IATA systems are used by most airlines to manage compliance with passport and visa regulations and will be the base for the global registry and verification of health requirements.

The One IDinitiative, endorsed last year by member airlines, is the base for the IATA Contactless Travel App for identity verification that would also manage the test and vaccination certificates.

“Our main priority is to get people travelling again safely. In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic Covid-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine programme,” said de Juniac who will step down next year and will be replaced by former IAG boss Willie Walsh.

A tourism group in New Zealand today also announced its plans to prepare for the return of international visitors in spite of uncertainty over when borders can open safely.

The Tourism Export Council says its Covid health and safety plan allowed businesses to demonstrate they are ready to receive international visitors ”when the time is right.”

Chief executive Lynda Keene said the council wanted the majority of its 202 inbound tour operator (ITOs) members signed up by the end of the year.

”It’s critical ITOs can advise offshore trade that New Zealand is ready to receive international visitors and we have factored in concerns travellers might have about travelling in a Covid world environment.”

Figures released by Tourism New Zealand today showed the absence of international tourists would cost about the country about $12.9 billion a year.

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