On Wednesday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) cautioned governments of “potential airport chaos” unless quick action is taken to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials and other Covid measures.

IATA’s director general Willie Walsh, during the IATA’s latest webcast dedicated to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the air transport industry, cited a modeling that showed the lack of digitalization could result in “chaos” at airports once air traffic improves to around 75 percent of pre-Covid levels.

At present, with only about 30 percent of 2019 air travel volumes, data indicates that processing times at airport have increased to three hours during peak periods. The models further indicate that at 75 percent of pre-covid traffic the time spent at airport would reach 5 ½ hours per trip and would go upto eight hours per trip at full pre-Covid volumes.

“Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were pre-crisis during peak time—reaching an unacceptable three hours,” said Walsh. “And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis-level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes. Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree on digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast.” 

Walsh further commented that which advances such as pre-check-in, passengers were allowed to arrive at the airport essentially “ready to fly.” Border-control processes have increasingly become self-service, with the adoption of digital identity technology. Paper-based Covid-19 document checks would force travelers back to manual check-in and border-control processes.

He also stressed on the need of introducing a globally recognized, standardized, and “interoperable” digital certificates for testing and vaccine credentials. This would help avoid documentation fraud, allow advance checks by authorities, reduce crowds and waiting time at airport, increase security with the use of digital identity management by border control as well as reduce the risk of virus transmission through physical exchange of paper documents.

Walsh mentions the G7 Summit, which starts on June 11, offers a good chance for governments to cooperate on international documentation standards. “This cannot wait,” insisted Walsh. “Booking patterns tell us that pent-up demand is at extremely high levels. But governments and the competent authorities are acting in isolation and moving far too slowly.

“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with industry input, on a common set of Covid-19 travel requirements,” he added. “The next step would be implementing and mutually recognizing those requirements. If the G7 took these leadership measures, the freedom to travel could be seamlessly restored for about a third of all journeys. Other countries could build on that leadership for a safe and efficient global restart of connectivity.”


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