IATA is urging governments to embrace digital platforms for Covid-19 testing as it warns that paper-based tests are vulnerable to fraudulent results.

Speaking on a media briefing on 27 January, Nick Careen, the airline association’s senior vice-president for airport, passenger, cargo and security, said that paper-based test results were inefficient, difficult to process and can also be “easily manipulated”.

IATA logo

Source: IATA

He says IATA is aware of “numerous” counterfeit Covid-19 test results in multiple countries, a problem that was previously associated with faked yellow fever certificates and is “about to get worse”.

While the problem is “not as widespread as one would think”, Careen says that it could become a “much larger issue” once the pandemic is brought under control as the number of health checks required by governments will “far exceed” those currently demanded for infectious diseases such as yellow fever.

Careen urges governments to adopt digital solutions and points out that the IATA Travel Pass, an app that the association is currently developing, will help passengers “easily and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements”.

“Digital certifications need to become a mandate, we cannot continue to operate in the fashion that we have globally with paper – this is just not sustainable,” he adds.

The IATA Travel Pass app allows passengers to create digital versions of their passport and manage their Covid-19 vaccination and testing statuses.

It is intended to enable contactless travel through airports and to smooth the process of sharing Covid-19 test and vaccination statuses with airlines and national authorities.

Careen says that pilot tests of the app were conducted in December. Additional pilots with “enhanced functionality” are planned for February with British Airways and Singapore Airlines. These will be followed by additional pilots with Qatar AirwaysEmirates and Etihad.

The goal is for the first version of the Travel Pass to be rolled out on 1 March, followed by a further iteration with more functionality in April.

Careen says that a global framework for testing is “urgently needed”.

“Countries are starting to question other countries’ testing capacities,” he warns.

Careen further urges organisations such the World Health Organization (WHO) to adopt global standards around a “smart” vaccine certification.

He laments the lack of progress in this area and says that the WHO needs a “fire lit underneath it” to speed up progress.

He says there needs to be more leadership from ICAO and WHO in order to get states to agree on a “process and a mechanism and a trigger” that will allow travel to restart.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the burning of cash that is happening, and it’s only a matter of time before we start to see bigger issues, and that will be loss of operations, loss of airlines, loss of schedule, increased costs,” says Careen.

Careen says that the need for a digital app that is universally recognised is “widely accepted”. IATA has had positive conversations with EASA, the European Union, airlines and individual governments, he says.

Speaking on the call, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac supported efforts by countries such as Greece to agree a global relaxation of travel restrictions and quarantine measures for those that have received a vaccine.

He says IATA also supports moves by Poland, Lebanon Latvia and the Seychelles to implement such an exemption.

De Juniac noted the recent suspension of flights between Denmark and the UAE shows how important it was to establish standardised tests. Additionally, De Juniac says IATA sees WHO leading efforts to develop a smart vaccination certificate which will be the digital successor to the long established “yellow book” used to manage vaccinations such as yellow fever.