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Light at the end of the tunnel: Accelerate vaccination and testing certification

TRAVEL NEWS – January 28, 2021: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to work with the air transport industry to devise plans to safely reconnect people, businesses and economies when the COVID-19 situation allows. A priority for this critical collaboration is to accelerate global standards for vaccination and testing certification. If it is up to IATA, it will come in the form of a digital Travel Pass with vaccine information, an addition to the ePassport.

Light at the end of the tunnel

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programs roll out. Turning this vision into a safe and orderly reboot will require careful planning and coordination by governments and industry. This will be a challenge as the distribution of new variants will be the priority for the coming weeks and months. But even if the crisis worsens, it is important to prepare for resumption of flights when the epidemiological situation allows. Global standards needed to support a 'back to normal' in travel will ensure air travel is well prepared. Airlines stand ready to support governments in this task,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of IATA.


When governments turn their attention to restoring global air links, IATA stands ready to work with them to enable a globally consistent, efficient and effective approach. We are already seeing some governments developing principles in their testing/vaccination programs that could form the basis for global cooperation. These include:

  • Vaccinations: most governments follow a vaccination strategy that aims to protect their health workers and the most vulnerable populations first. IATA supports reopening borders for travel when this is achieved, as the greatest risks have been mitigated.
  • Vaccinated persons: the Greek government suggested last week to immediately exempt vaccinated persons from travel restrictions, including quarantine. IATA supports moves by governments including Poland, Latvia, Lebanon and the Seychelles to introduce this exemption.
  • To test: many governments are implementing testing regimes to facilitate travel, which IATA supports. For example, Germany and the US are benefiting from the rapid improvement in testing technologies to accept PCR and antigen testing to safely manage the risks of travel. While rapid antigen testing is preferred due to their speed and cost benefits, it is clear that PCR testing will come into play as many governments require testing within a 48 to 72 hour period before traveling.
  • Crew: the ICAO-CART guideline recommends that the crew be exempt from testing processes and restrictions intended for passengers. IATA supports crew health management protocols, including, for example, regular tests and health checks at home bases, along with strict guidelines limiting interaction with the local community during crew transfers. This allows airlines to manage the risks of COVID-19 while maintaining operational viability.
  • Bio-security measures: the ICAO recommendations for biosecurity measures (including wearing a mask) are being implemented worldwide. IATA supports such measures which will remain in full force for all travelers until the epidemiological situation allows for easing.

“There are many moving parts. The number of people vaccinated and the availability of tests are central to this. Airlines have adapted their operations 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 prepare to ultimately secure global connectivity for their people, businesses and economies,” said de Juniac.

Practicalities: Global standards are essential

All scenarios for restoring air connectivity are underpinned by the development of global standards so that travelers from other jurisdictions can meet the demands of one country. Major global standards under development include:

Vaccination booklet with passport
Vaccination booklet with passport
  • Vaccination certificates: WHO is leading the effort to build the standards needed to digitally capture vaccination data critical to the recovery of international travel. The Smart Vaccination Certificate will be the digital successor to the long-standing “yellow book” used to manage vaccinations such as yellow fever.
  • Global standard for testing: the OECD is laying the groundwork to help governments trust test data based on mutual recognition of test results. The urgency of such a standard was demonstrated by the recent suspension of flights between the UAE and Denmark over concerns about the UAE's testing regime. A trusted standard ensures that travelers don't get caught up in the middle if governments don't recognize each other's testing regimes. Standardizing the right test certificates is also essential.
  • Digital Travel Credential (DTC): ICAO has published standards to make a DTC of ePassports. In addition to enabling contactless travel, as recommended by the ICAO-CART guidelines, the credentials are an essential part of digitally matching travelers with their vaccination and testing certificates. The standard exists and the challenge now is implementation.
Paper Passport
Paper Passport

“As we have seen, unilateral government decisions are very effective in halting global mobility. Restoration of the freedom to travel, however, is only possible with cooperation. Governments are already seeing how challenging that will be without global standards for vaccines or tests. This highlights the urgency of the vital work of the WHO, OECD and ICAO. IATA participates in these initiatives and stands ready to assist governments with implementation,” said de Juniac.

Building the future with IATA Travel Pass

IATA builds the information infrastructure to get back on the road safely with the IATA Travel Passes† The IATA Travel Pass is an industry solution that helps governments, airlines and individual travelers manage vaccine or testing requirements with accurate information, secure identification and verified data. As an industry-backed solution, it will be cost-effective, protect privacy and respect global standards.

Also read: Vaccination refusal: fear of restricted travel and public access

The first pilot program to test the app in a real-world travel situation began at Singapore Airlines in December 2020. A growing list of airlines confirm their intention to use IATA Travel Pass, including IAG, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

Emirates-Airbus-A380-premium-economy seat

“Based on our deep experience driving transformational change in global air transportation, we believe IATA Travel Pass will provide the best support for governments in managing vaccination and testing data to facilitate travel safely. But the success of any of the solutions being developed depends on governments working together and trusting each other. Air transport has built its reputation for safety by partnering with governments to ensure the universal implementation of transparent global standards. That's a compelling model for how industry and governments can work together to reconnect the world by leveraging the opportunities created by testing and vaccination," de Juniac said.

Also read: Five expert tips for a good night's sleep on the plane

Source: IATA.org
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