People wait for passengers at one of the International Arrivals halls at London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021
JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images
A new app, set to launch within weeks, could mark the first step in resuming quarantine-free international travel.
The International Air Travel Association (IATA) travel app will allow governments and airlines to digitally collect, access and share information on the status of individual passengers’ Covid-19 test and vaccination.
The industry body, of which 290 airlines are members, said the tool will bring greater “efficiency” to health documentation checks, while speeding up the recovery of the hard-hit travel sector.
“It’s really about digitizing an existing process,” Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president for airport passenger cargo and security, told CNBC Wednesday.
“This is the way forward, because if we do manual processing, we will come to a grinding halt the minute we begin to see a restart,” he said.
Singapore Airlines will be the first carrier to pilot the tool on an end-to-end London Heathrow route. Thirty other airlines, including Air New Zealand, as well as Emirates and Etihad in the UAE, are set to conduct trials through March and April.
IATA is not alone in developing so-called digital health passports intended to restart cross-border travel. International agencies, governments and tech companies are all also pitching in. But Careen said he hopes the app will establish a “minimum set of requirements” to allow for greater interoperability.
“Eventually you’ll see multiple people in this space,” he said, “but we’re setting the baseline in terms of what the standard needs to be.”
With the new app and continued vaccine rollouts, the global airline association estimates that travel could reach around 50% of 2019 levels by the end of this year.
Analysts had previously expected a greater pick up in travel in early 2021, but the continued spread of the virus and the emergence of new strains have pushed back those expectations.
“That’s the current economic forecast,” said Careen. “There’s a lot of variables that play into that.”