GENEVA, 28 May 2021: The International Air Transport
Association (IATA) warns airports could face chaos if governments fail to move
quickly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials for
Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates.

Impacts will be severe

  • Pre-COVID-19, passengers, on average, spent about 1.5 hours in travel
    processes for every journey (check-in, security, border control, customs, and
    baggage claim).
  • Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to
    3.0 hours during peak time, with travel volumes at only about 30% of
    pre-Covid-19 levels. The greatest increases are at check-in and border control
    (emigration and immigration), where travel health credentials are being checked
    mainly as paper documents.
  • Modelling suggests that, without process improvements, the time spent
    in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75% pre-COVID-19 traffic
    levels and 8.0 hours per trip at 100% pre-Covid-19 traffic levels.

“Without an automated solution for Covid-19 checks, we can
see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon. Already,
average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were
pre-crisis during peak time—reaching an unacceptable three hours. And that is
with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of
pre-crisis volumes,” said IATA’s director general Willie Walsh.

Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border
formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates
before traffic ramps up. Technical solutions exist. But governments must agree
on digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they
must act fast,”  he concluded.

Over the past two decades, air travel has been reinvented to put
passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes. This
enables travellers to arrive at the airport essentially “ready to fly”. And
with digital identity technology, border control processes are also increasingly
self-service using e-gates. Paper-based COVID-19 document check would force
travellers back to manual check-in and border control processes that are
already struggling even with low volumes of travellers.

Solutions

If Governments require COVID-19 health credentials for travel,
integrating them into already automated processes is the solution for a smooth
restart.  This would need globally
recognised, standardised, and interoperable digital certificates for COVID-19
testing and vaccine certificates.

Digitalised certificates have advantages

  • Avoiding fraudulent documentation.
  • Enabling advance “ready-to-fly” checks by governments.
  • Reducing queuing, crowding and waiting time in airports through
    integration with self-service check-in (via the internet, kiosks or mobile
    phone apps).
  • Increasing security through integration with digital identity
    management being used by border control authorities.
  • Reducing the risk of virus transmission via the person-to-person
    exchange of paper documents.

Building a Global
Approach

The G20 has identified a similar solution. The
G20 Rome Guidelines for the Future of Tourism called for a common international
approach on COVID-19 testing, vaccination, certification, and information, as
well as promoting digital traveller identity.

The G7 discussions, which commence on 11 June, are the next
opportunity for leading governments to develop a solution around four key
actions by agreeing to:

  1. Issue vaccination certificates based on World Health Organization (WHO) Smart Vaccine; Certificate data standards including QR codes;
  2. Issue COVID-19 test certificates in accordance with the data requirements set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO);
  3. Accept digital COVID-19 test and vaccine certificates at their borders;
  4. Where governments require airlines to check travel credentials, governments should accept traveller-friendly apps, such as the IATA Travel Pass, to efficiently facilitate the process.

“This cannot wait. More and more people are being
vaccinated. More borders are opening. Booking patterns tell us that pent-up
demand is at extremely high levels. But governments and the competent
authorities are acting in isolation and moving far too slowly. A smooth restart
is still possible. But governments need to understand the urgency and act
fast,” said Walsh.

“IATA asks the G7 to work with the air transport industry to
take leadership in restarting the global travel sector. By engaging with the
air transport industry, we can ensure that government requirements for safe
travel are met with solutions that can be efficiently operationalised.

“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with industry
input, on a common set of COVID-19 travel requirements. The next step would be
implementing and mutually recognising those requirements. If the G7 took these
leadership measures, the freedom to travel could be seamlessly restored for about
a third of all journeys. Other countries could build on that leadership for a
safe and efficient global restart of connectivity,” said Walsh.