Health passport standards, interoperability critical for revival of international travel

Multiple digital health passport solutions are in
development
from companies including the International Air Transport Association, AOKpass, Airside Mobile, Yoti, Daon, Ink Aviation and the Commons Project – all aiming to facilitate the resumption of international
travel since it came to a virtual standstill due to COVID-19.

But these passports are just one piece of a much larger, more
complex puzzle that will need to be solved if there are hopes to return to a world when
people can freely move across borders. And two of the biggest pieces of that
puzzle are the need for standards – regarding things like testing, vaccines, identity
and the exchange of data – and interoperability, which eliminates silos and creates a simple experience for travelers.

Those were the key themes in a panel discussion Wednesday during
a technology showcase virtual event hosted by Plug and Play Tech Center on the topic of
digital wellness passports. Following presentations from some of the solution
providers, a panel of leaders representing airports, airlines, government and
IATA discussed what will be needed to make digital passports operational.

Dr. Gunther Ofner, co-CEO of Vienna International Airport, says
Vienna was the first major airport in the world to provide PCR COVID testing at
the airport, and in a pilot with Lufthansa was able to test all passengers
traveling on a specific flight without any delay in the boarding process.

But,
he says, “What is missing is that this test is accepted from the other side, so
that you can immigrate into other countries and that the interfaces are working
and are fitting together. And therefore I think we have to mobilize all the energy
possible to find common standards and to use these digital instruments to
restart air traveling.”

From the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism
Committee, Claudia Monteiro de Aguiar says her organization wants to encourage
debate and consensus-building so, as travel resumes, there is not the “discoordination”
that happened at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We don’t want member states to act unilaterally. We want
these kind of solutions to be recognized as common, rapid and cost-effective. …
Now is the time to understand how we will implement it, how it will have data
privacy … and how we will handle this in different transport apps – airports, in
ports, rail. We need to not leave anyone behind,” she says.

Star Alliance’s director of digital and technology services,
Jeremy Drury, says the next “evolutionary step” will be that customers can choose
which digital passport to use to store their COVID credentials, and each one would be
accepted by any airline in the network.

“We need to make sure international markets open up, the interline
segments open up, and that will require a truly interoperable solution,” he
says.

Several panelists agree that while standalone health
passports may be an immediate solution, the experience will be better for
passengers if eventually these verification systems are housed within the
airlines’ mobile apps.

If we don’t start right now, we will lose this summer.
Dr. Gunther Ofner – Vienna International Airport

“Because if you take a British Airways flight or a Virgin
flight or KLM flight, you are going to use these airline apps, and all of those
tactics need to be embedded into those apps, even if it’s from multiple
solution providers, because we should be interoperable,” says Frederic Leger,
IATA’s director of airport, passenger, cargo and security products.

“We need to give confidence back to the governments that solutions
are compliant. We need to give confidence back to the airlines and airports
that the solutions we are introducing are scalable and that we can process a
large number of passenger when they are going to come back to travel. And I think
for the passengers what is super important is it must be simple.”

Virgin Atlantic chief customer and operating officer
Corneel Koster says the airline will be announcing a digital health solution
soon, with the view that it is the “MVP [minimum viable product] that can get
travel going safely this summer.”

Denver International Airport chief operating officer
Chris McLaughlin agrees that the industry should implement digital health solutions
quickly and then adjust them as needed over time.

“Having a standard and seeking pure interoperability is
great thing to strive for, and we should and we must, but we can’t wait for it. So
we’ve got to take steps and actions that we can right now while we strive for
the best solution in the long term,” he says.

The need for governments to act is also urgent, Ofner says, and industry stakeholders should mobilize public discourse about solutions and standards for the reopening of borders, because “only
then government and public institutions will act … [because] without such
digital health pass, the recovery will be postponed for a year.

“If we don’t
start right now, we will lose this summer.”

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