Covid-19: Air NZ Trials Vaccine Passport


Air New Zealand will take the first steps towards reviving international air travel this month when it starts trialling an electronic vaccination passport.

Passengers and crew departing Auckland for Sydney will be urged to take part in the three-week trial by downloading the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass app to their Apple or android device. It will also be used on return flights across the Tasman during April.

The move coincides with the likely opening of a ‘trans-Tasman travel bubble’ – a quarantine-free corridor between New Zealand and Australia – this month. A start date is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

The IATA Travel Pass will use biometric data to verify an individual’s identity. For example, passengers will take a selfie that is matched with a digital biometric photo on their passport. 

Passengers have to create a digital health wallet linked to their e-passport. They’ll then be able to verify their identity, retrieve their COVID-19 test results or vaccination records and allow airlines to know their COVID-19 status.

The IATA app is one of several digital passports that airlines and governments are assessing to certify that travellers have undergone the necessary COVID-19 tests and vaccinations before they fly.

Singapore Airlines and Emirates were the first airlines to test the IATA app, while Qantas, Etihad, Qatar Airways and British Airways have also signed on. The IATA represents 290 airlines worldwide.

Qantas has already trialled CommonPass – a digital health passport created by the World Economic Forum and Commons Project, a nonprofit focusing on public digital services, based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The airline used the app for crew on a COVID repatriation flight from Frankfurt to Darwin last year, before rolling it out to passengers.

Travellers will remain in control of their data.

CommonPass has also partnered with Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as various health systems in the United States.

The advent of electronic vaccination credentials could have a profound effect on efforts to control Covid-19, while also opening up international borders and restoring global economies.

While civil liberties experts suggest the technology could create an invasive system of social control, app developers insist travellers will remain in control of their data.

The IATA Travel Pass does not store any data centrally. It simply links entities that need verification (airlines and governments) with the test or vaccination data when travellers permit.

In other words, no verification data will go to an airline or government without the traveller allowing it.

Depending on the success of these trials, airlines expect to start integrating the frameworks into their own smartphone apps by mid-year.


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