Chinese airlines weighing IATA’s digital travel pass
Published: Feb 25, 2021 08:09 PM

Passengers check in at Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Aug. 18, 2020. Kazakhstan has begun resuming flights to the United Arab Emirates, Belarus and Germany, among other nations, local media reported. According to Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport, a plane from the country's capital to the German city of Frankfurt took off on early Tuesday morning with 94 passengers on board, becoming the first direct flight between Kazakhstan and Germany since March. (Photo by Kalizhan Ospanov/Xinhua)

With airlines around the world testing the waters for a digital passport backed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), market watchers said Chinese airlines and tourism information service providers may jump to the bandwagon. 

IATA is advocating a digital passport, with the global airline industry expected to remain cash negative this year, to help passengers easily and securely manage travel in line with government requirements for COVID-19 tests.

Market watchers said airlines and information providers such as TravelSky Technology might get involved with the so-called Travel Pass. TravelSky Technology is a dominant provider of information technology solutions for China's aviation travel sector.

It is becoming clear that vaccines and testing will play a role as the pandemic comes under control and economies ramp up, including the travel sector. The IATA Travel Pass will enable travelers to securely control their health data and share it with the authorities, according to a release IATA sent to the Global Times on Thursday. 

A growing list of airlines including Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, RwandAir and Singapore Airlines — have conducted trials of the pass or will do so.

The IATA Travel Pass will initially be offered to Etihad's guests on selected flights from Abu Dhabi in the first quarter of 2021. If successful, the pass will be extended to other destinations on the Etihad network, according to a note sent from Etihad on Thursday. 

The IATA Travel Pass enables Emirates passengers to create a "digital passport" to verify their pre-travel test or vaccination meets the requirements of the destination. They will also be able to share the test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel, Emirates said.  

Efficient digital management of health credentials is vital to restart travel. Manual processes will not be able to cope with volumes once the recovery begins. Digital solutions must be secure, work with existing systems, align with global standards and respect data privacy. In developing the IATA Travel Pass these are fully in focus, said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and CEO.

IATA highlights putting travelers in control of their personal information for top-level data security and data privacy, and global standards recognized by governments to ensure verified identity and test or vaccine information are the priority in the design. 

Within the IATA Travel Pass app, the integrated registry of travel requirements will also enable passengers to find accurate information on travel and entry requirements for all destinations. It will also include a registry of testing and eventually vaccination centers.

Market watchers said there are still hurdles ahead for the digital pass, such as how to integrate information, how to select qualified nucleic acid testing agencies, and how to unify the automatically generated QR codes, to show the person's health status.

IATA estimates for cash burn in 2021 have ballooned to the $75-$95 billion range from a previously anticipated $48 billion, and it is already clear that the first half of 2021 will be worse than earlier anticipated, for governments have tightened travel restrictions in response to new COVID-19 variants.