The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that its digital COVID travel pass should be ready within weeks. What the organization is hoping will be the key to giving governments the confidence to reopen borders is still on trial with a number of airlines globally. However, the plan is to have a fully functioning system go live sometime in March.

The entire aviation industry is pinning its hopes on reopening borders and international travel by the coming northern summer season. Most agree that in order for that to happen, in lieu of an all-encompassing global vaccination drive, there must be a system in place for agreed-upon standards for COVID-testing.

Confidence key issue

For the past few months, IATA has been developing a digital app called Travel Pass. This is meant to function partly as a resource for passengers to find out what tests and potential vaccines they require before travel and provide locations of verified testing facilities.

However, it will also give travelers the ability to share their test results. This means that authorized labs and test centers can send the results or vaccination certificates directly to the app, in essence creating a digital COVID-19 passport.

“The key issue is one of confidence. Passengers need to be confident that the testing they’ve taken is accurate and will allow them to enter the country,” Vinoop Goel, IATA’s regional director of airports and external relations told the BBC.

“And then governments need to have the confidence that the tests that the passengers claim to have is one which is accurate and meets their own conditions,” Mr Goel continued.

Pilots ongoing

Among the first airlines globally to pilot the new travel pass were dual UAE flag-carriers Etihad and Emirates, both heavily dependent on long-haul transfer customers and eager to reboot international travel. Panama was the first government to participate in the trial along with its flag-carrier Copa Airlines.

When released to the public, it will be available on both iOS and Android platforms and is expected to be free for passengers. According to IATA, it is being designed in a ‘modular’ way so that it can adapt and connect to other systems in use around the world.

Less easy to fake

Hopes are that digital certificates will inspire greater confidence as they are more difficult to fake than their paper-based counterparts. Unfortunately, accounts of individuals or even test centers providing forged documents and certificates have undermined the trust in pre-departure test-schemes, perhaps delaying the lifting of strict quarantine measures.

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