The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to partner with the air transport industry to devise plans to safely re-link people, business and economies just as soon as the COVID-19 epidemiological situation permits. A priority for this critical cooperation, it explains, is acceleration of the establishment of global standards for vaccination and testing certification.
Clearly, underlying all scenarios for the re-establishment of air connectivity is the development of global standards so that the requirements of one country can be followed by travellers originating in other jurisdictions. This is one area of concern as countries take their own individual approaches.
“It is important to prepare the way for a resumption of flights when the epidemiological situation permits,” highlights Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Understanding government policy benchmarks and agreeing the global standards needed to support a return to normality in travel will ensure that air transport is well-prepared and does not become a meaningful vector for reimportation.”
There are some positive signs. A number of key global standards are already being developed including vaccination certificates, a global framework for testing and the establishment of a digital travel credential (DTC).
The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading efforts to build the standards needed to digitally record vaccination information that will be critical to re-establishing international travel. This Smart Vaccination Certificate will be the digital successor to the long-established “yellow book” used to manage vaccinations such as yellow fever.
Meanwhile, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is laying the foundation for a global framework to help governments trust testing data based on mutual recognition of testing results. A trusted framework will ensure that travellers are not caught in the middle when governments do not recognise each other’s testing regimes.
Similarly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has published standards to create a DTC from ePassports. Along with enabling contactless travel as recommended by ICAO-CART guidelines, the credentials are an essential component in digitally matching travellers to their vaccination and testing certificates. This standard exists, but IATA warns the challenge now is implementation.
“As we have seen, unilateral government decisions are very effective in shutting down global mobility. Re-establishing the freedom to travel, however, can only be done with cooperation. Governments are already seeing how challenging that will be without global standards for vaccines or tests. This puts a spotlight on the urgency of the essential work being done by WHO, OECD and ICAO,” says Mr de Juniac.
IATA acknowledges that we can already see some governments evolving principles in their testing/vaccination programs that could form the foundation for global harmonisation. Most governments are pursuing a vaccination strategy that seeks to protect their health care workers and most vulnerable populations first. Many countries are now also proposing that vaccinated individuals should be immediately exempted from travel restrictions, including quarantine. Numerous governments are also implementing testing regimes to facilitate travel.
“There are plenty of moving parts in the equation. The number of people vaccinated, and the availability of testing are key among them. Airlines have adapted their operations in order to maintain cargo operations and some passenger services, while complying with the numerous and uncoordinated restrictions imposed. Building on this experience they can help governments with their preparations for eventually safely re-establishing global connectivity for their people, businesses and economies,” explains Mr de Juniac.
IATA itself is building the information infrastructure to safely re-start travel with its IATA Travel Pass. The IATA Travel Pass is an industry solution that will help governments, airlines and individual travellers manage vaccine or testing requirements with accurate information, secure identification and verified data. As an industry-supported solution, IATA says it “will be cost effective, protect privacy and respect global standards”.
The first pilot programme to test the app in a real travel situation commenced with Singapore Airlines in Dec-2020. A growing list of airlines are confirming their intention to use IATA Travel Pass, including IAG, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
“We believe that IATA Travel Pass will offer the best support to governments in managing vaccination and testing data to safely facilitate travel. But the success of any of the solutions being developed will depend on governments working with and trusting each other,” says Mr de Juniac.
We are now reaching a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic that delivers increased hope that we can all start to return to travel at some point in 2021. The roll-out of vaccination programmes is a significant step. However, it remains a complex and fluid situation and initiating a safe and orderly re-start will require careful planning and coordination by governments and industry. This will remain a huge challenge as the priority for governments for the weeks and months ahead will remain containing the spread of the virus and particularly the new variants which are proving an area of alarm.