IATA app might restart quarantine-free, worldwide flights

People wait for passengers in one of the international arrivals lounges at London Heathrow Airport in west London on February 14, 2021

JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images

A new app to be released within a few weeks could represent the first step towards resuming quarantine-free international travel.

With the travel app of the International Air Travel Association (IATA), governments and airlines can digitally collect, access and share information about the status of the Covid-19 test and the vaccination of individual passengers.

The industry association, which includes 290 airlines, said the tool will make health documentation reviews more efficient while also accelerating the recovery of the hardest-hit travel sector.

“It’s really about digitizing an existing process,” Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president of passenger cargo and security, told CNBC on Wednesday.

If we do the manual processing, we will stall the moment we see a reboot.

Nick Careen

Senior Vice President (APCS), IATA

“This is the way forward because if we work manually we will stall the moment we see a restart,” he said.

Singapore Airlines will be the first airline to pilot the tool on a continuous London Heathrow route. Thirty other airlines, including Air New Zealand and Emirates and Etihad in the United Arab Emirates, are scheduled to conduct trials by March and April.

IATA is not the only one to develop so-called digital health passports with which cross-border trips can be resumed. International agencies, governments and technology companies also participate. However, Careen hopes the app will set “minimum requirements” to allow for better interoperability.

“At some point you will see several people in this area,” he said, “but we are setting the baseline in terms of the standard.”

With the new app and the ongoing vaccine rollouts, the global airline association It is estimated that by the end of this year, travel could hit around 50% of 2019 levels.

Previously, analysts had expected a greater increase in travel in early 2021, but the continued spread of the virus and the emergence of new strains have pushed those expectations back on.

“That is the current economic forecast,” said Careen. “There are many variables that contribute to this.”

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