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Muhammed Yılmaz

Digital Health Passport for Air Travels

Issue 8 - 2020
Digital Health Passport for Air Travels

Muhammed Yılmaz spoke to Nick Careen, IATA's Senior Vice President of Airport, Passenger and Cargo Security and the executor of the Travel Pass project, about Aviation Industry and especially the Travel Pass project.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has severely hit the aviation industry also led to various changes, some temporary and some permanent, in our travels. The most prominent of those is the digital travel passport.

Various decisions of countries regarding border closures and quarantine practices have seriously distanced people from traveling. Recent developments in vaccination were also expected to increase the demand for air travel. However, the difficulties arisen in the supply and global distribution of the vaccine, the emergence of new virus variants and the continuation of the ongoing total lockdown in many countries, especially in European countries, lead to dissatisfaction in the sector in terms of the long-awaited momentum. Analysts say that 2021, carrying high hopes for recovery, could be even worse than 2020.

Australian Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s expression “No jab, no fly”, requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for passengers, has also become a new concern as it will have a negative impact on the industry's recovery.

The International Air Transport Association IATA has announced that they are strictly against such a practice. Since the first day of the outbreak, IATA has been making recommendations for people to travel more and to increase global mobility. Within this framework, it calls for rapid, affordable (US$ 7) and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure at all airports around the world, for governments worldwide to accept the results of these tests, and for countries to stop their border closure and quarantine practices. It also calls the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO for duty to make this a global standard.

IATA, on the other hand, continues its efforts to make its mobile application widely used in the industry, which will contain passengers' health information about COVID-19 and provide up-to-date information on travel restrictions.

Travel Pass, which will host critical travel information, allowing passengers to share COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates with airlines and governments, is thought to reduce people's anxiety about traveling, as the application becomes a norm in the industry.

With the Travel Pass, which we can summarize as the Digital Travel Health Certificate, passport information of the passenger will be linked with test and vaccine certificates from participating laboratories around the world and global health requirements records.

Based on open standards and open source, the App will not store any passenger data centrally, instead it will operate as a verification system with the help of block chain technology.

Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Copa Airlines are among the carriers that have agreed to use the Travel Pass application and it is believed other airlines will follow these companies.

I spoke to Nick Careen, IATA's Senior Vice President of Airport, Passenger and Cargo Security, about the project. He is also the executor of the Travel Pass project.

 What is a Travel Pass?

Nick Careen: IATA Travel Pass is a mobile application that helps travelers to store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or COVID-19 vaccines. This will be important for governments that are likely to require either verified testing or vaccination proof as a condition of international travel during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The IATA Travel Pass will be more secure and efficient than current paper processes used to manage health requirements (the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, for example). This will be important given the potentially enormous scale of testing or vaccine verifications that will need to be securely managed.

 What information does the Travel Pass contain?

Nick Careen: The IATA Travel Pass has four open and interoperable modules which together create the end-to-end solution. IATA Travel Pass incorporates;


Global registry of health requirements – enables passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey.

Global registry of testing / vaccination centers – enables passengers to find testing centers and labs at their departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination. 

Lab App – enables authorized labs and test centers to securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers.

Contactless Travel App - enables passengers to (1) create a ‘digital passport’, (2) receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and (3) share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. This app can also be used by travelers to manage travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout their journey, improving travel experience.

 With whom and how will users' information be shared?

Nick Careen: Travelers always remain in control of their data with their privacy protected. The IATA Travel Pass does not store any data centrally. It simply links entities that need verification (airlines and governments) with the test or vaccination data when travelers permit. This last point is key. No verification will go to an airline or a government without the authorization of the traveler. When needed, the traveler will be prompted to release their certificates to authorities and other stakeholders.  If the passenger chooses to do so, the data is sent by them from their phones directly to the other entity. Travelers always remain in control of their data with their privacy protected.

 What measures have been taken to prevent information from reaching unwanted persons?

Nick Careen: IATA Travel Pass has been developed using the latest standards from the W3C consortium, the Travel Pass is built on top of a public block chain acting as a decentralized root of trust that truly provides identity for all. This is the concept of self-sovereign identity (SSI) and verifiable credentials. As the protocol used by Travel Pass is based on open standards and open source (The Hyperledger Indy Project), it gives to the participants the assurance that their identity will never be under the control of a single company or federation. 

The Sovrin Foundation which operates the public block chain behind Travel Pass is the first global public utility working as a community of privacy experts from around the world to serve as a guarantee that the network can be trusted by all stakeholders, meeting the strongest privacy standards in the world while being available to all with the required performance to grow at Internet scale.

The result is a scalable and cost-effective solution where the personal data stays on the mobile device of the passenger in his/her total control. Travel Pass facilitates the exchange of encrypted keys between stakeholders (labs, airlines and authorities) via ultra-secured protocols to allow them to verify the authenticity of key documents, therefore protecting the bio-safety of the flight.

 What is the purpose of the project paperless?

Nick Careen: Paperless is safer. Paper test results come not only in different formats and languages, but they can also be easily manipulated. Check-in agents need to follow extensive entry requirement guidance and try to determine the authenticity of multiple non-standard test documents passengers present to them. This leads to health check inefficiencies, errors and fraud – an increasing problem around the world.

IATA Travel Pass modernizes, through digitalization, an existing system of paper test and vaccine certificates.  IATA Travel Pass moves existing paper processes to a digital platform. 

 What are the differences of Travel Pass from other similar applications?

Nick Careen: IATA Travel Pass is unique due to the combination of technology and the rules engine supporting the app and in the fact that it been designed by the industry for the industry. 

The solution has built using block chain technology. This brings certain benefits firstly it is decentralized meaning that there is no central IATA database with passengers’ data, all passengers data is stored on the passenger’s own phone. Secondly, the passenger controls their own data on their phone and can choose to share it with airlines and other parties. The App does not enable 3rd parties to access any passenger data, e.g. Google. 

The app’s the rules engine better known as the Global registry of health requirements –which enables passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey is powered by Timatic, which helped airlines to ensure that the travel documentation of 700 million travelers met government entry requirements in 2019.

The app has been designed by the industry for the industry a travel advisory group made up of airlines provides input into the apps development. 

 How much budget has IATA allocated for this project?

Nick Careen:  is still a work in progress. There are some cost-efficiencies as the IATA Travel Pass relies on some existing IATA solutions like the IATA Contactless Travel App and Timatic. We do not, however, intend to disclose the development cost.

 Which airlines and countries officially support the Travel Pass application?

Nick Careen: Since kicking off the development of IATA Travel Pass in December, we are fast approaching the roll out of the first full pilot with Singapore Airlines at the end of March. This will be followed by a pilot with IAG and trials with Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Copa Airlines along with another 15 airlines. We have also received public endorsement for IATA Travel Pass from the government of Panama and discussions are ongoing with other governments. 

What is the process required to start using the project? (For airlines, airports or governments)

They just need to contact IATA -

 Is the infrastructure of all airlines and airports sufficient to implement this system?

Nick Careen: Yes 

Will there be any fees for using the application? (For passengers, airlines, airports or governments)

IATA Travel Pass will be free for passengers to download and use. For airline we aim to make this solution as low cost for airlines as possible while ensuring that the solution is robust. Final pricing has yet to be determined.

What is the calendar for the implementation of the project?

Nick Careen: The first-cross border pilots started end of 2020 and the iOS and android launch is slated for the end of March 2021.  

To be ready for when governments re-open borders, we are working as fast as we can with our member airlines to bring this to market.

 How effective does IATA think the Travel Pass application is in terms of the recovery of the aviation industry, which has plummeted due to the pandemic?

Nick Careen: It will be crucial. To reopen borders without quarantine, governments need to be confident that they are mitigating the risk of importing COVID-19. Testing or proof of vaccine is the solution. IATA Travel Pass will manage and verify the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories, and travelers giving governments confidence in a passenger COVID-19 status.

 What are the biggest obstacles to the Travel Pass project being applicable all over the world?

Nick Careen: Lack of harmonized health standards. We need the World Health Organization and International Civil Aviation Organization to move faster to develop digital certificates for Covid-19 vaccines and testing, respectively (this is so we can ensure equivalence, mutual recognition, and acceptance for your citizens when they travel around the world). We also need border or other agencies needs to accept digital passenger test/vaccination certificates on a passengers’ phone and not just on paper.  

There are a number of people who think that the widespread use of this practice will have a negative impact on people's travel demand. How do you intend to overcome this problem? (Especially for those who do not want to be vaccinated)

Nick Careen: Governments, not airlines and not IATA, make the rules on entry requirements for travelers. Airlines and passengers need to comply. Governments will also decide if vaccinations will be mandatory or voluntary for their populations. If governments make vaccinations a requirement for travel, airlines will comply, and the IATA Travel Pass will help them 

Thank you for your answers.

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