The International Air Transport Association will soon roll out blockchain-based passports that digitally store an individual’s health information — specifically, their COVID-19 testing and vaccination status.
In a move that IATA says has the potential to reopen international travel and loosen current global quarantine restrictions, a “health” passport will be stored in a user’s smartphone in the form of an app, with the first real-world testing expected to take place as soon as February.
Known as the IATA Travel Pass and described as a way to give travelers complete control over their own data, the app would reportedly also act as a two-way communication tool that broadcasts information to relevant governments, vaccination centers and airlines.
Four major airlines have signed up for the program thus far. Singapore Airlines and British Airways plan to begin the first phase of testing in February, while Etihad and Emirates currently forecast an April launch date.
Alan Murray Hayden — head of airport, passenger and security products at IATA — praised the use of “powerful” blockchain technology in the scheme, adding that it was one of the few implementations of the technology to date that has a clear beneficial effect:
“This is the beauty of the technology we’re using; it puts the passenger in complete control of their data. There’s no central database and nobody can hack it. The passenger owns their data and they share it with the airline. It’s so powerful and it’s probably one of the first ever examples of blockchain technology being implemented in a way that benefits people.”
The Travel Pass will feature four main interactive components: the digital passport module; a Lab app, which allows data to be sent securely via testing labs and the app itself; a global registry of vaccination centers; and a global registry of up-to-date health requirements demanded by international travelers at any given time.
If the would-be passenger’s health and vaccination status meets international requirements, then, Hayden said, the passenger would be good to go.
“So, now passengers have three key things on their phone — their digital passports, test results and what we call an ‘okay to travel’. Passengers can then choose whether to share this data on the airline app. They will be prompted to submit their data and if they click on submit it will be sent to the airline. This is simple from a passenger perspective — literally with the click of a couple of buttons the airline now has all passenger’s details, and they’re 100% sure that the passenger is okay to fly.”
Etihad airline passengers flying out of Abu Dhabi will be the first to be offered the use of the digital passports in the first quarter of 2021.