With tentative steps being taken towards the reopening of global travel, airlines, airports and governments are looking at how to coordinate data on the health status of passengers to allow safer and more confident travel in the post COVID world.

Spanish technology company Ink Aviation has systems at work in more than 150 airports and 100 airlines worldwide. It has now developed a platform based on customer smartphones that enables airlines, airports and governments to quickly vet a passenger’s health status in advance of arrival, including analysing COVID-19 test results and vaccination status.

The platform is being trialled at Manila Airport and Clark airports in the Philippines.

Framework allows results to be transferred directly to those that need to see them

INK CEO Shawn Richards explained how the platform worked: “Essentially, what it is, is providing a framework that allows the results that come out of labs to be transferred directly into the hands of those that need to see them and vet them within the airport. So that includes airlines airports, ground handlers also need to be able to see this information because ground handlers are the ones who take care of the planes and the passengers when it’s being turned. And then the other player in this whole puzzle of data handling are governments, so immigration, and emigration, they need to know what is the status of passengers health before they depart. And our system helps to do that.”

Richards said the system had benefits over paper certificates which could be more easily forged. He explained: “What these digital passports enable is, for this information about the test, and the test results, to stay away from the passenger. So there’s no way, there’s no vector that they can use to alter any aspect of it. So the integrity of it is much higher.”

Test fraud would have an impact on health

He said as tests were becoming a more endemic part of travel now and everybody needs to have these tests, there would be more temptation for results to be doctored as the cost of testing was high.

He added: “The temptation is there and the impact of this fraud is actually health. So we can see, it’s quite a difficult and important problem to solve.”

“So the idea is basically you remove the ability for the passenger to change that data, but you still give them control of that data because ownership of the data is very important. Ink as a data processor is not trying to own a of this data. What we are trying to do is join the dots between the people that originate high quality data and the people that need the systems that need to consume high quality data to ensure people safety.

He said the system would need initial involvement and collaboration of health professionals, different governments and immigration.“Economies need to restart. And as you said to me at the top of the piece, we need to bring confidence back into travel, in order for that confidence to return, people need to be assured about health. So you are increasingly going to get the needs, it’s almost like these governments are going to be driven by the demand to do this.”

“The implication of not doing it is that you will be moving people who are potentially unsafe from one place to another. And as we know, the virus cannot travel internationally on its own. So we certainly need to make sure that we are evolving to be able to deal with this threat. And the way you do that is by communication.”

COVID-19 pandemic will drive forward technology adoption

Richards said the push towards a new contactless experience at airports or on airlines could be achieved by making better use of technologies which were already available. In the case of biometric security it may result in the technology being rolled out at a faster rate than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said: “The technology is not new. The technology for contactless, the technology for biometric processing is certainly not new. The industry has been, to a large extent, on the fence about it. You can go through some airports and see some biometric processing. There have been initiatives in the States and in the Middle East and so on, some processing out in the Far East. So you can see that it has tentative introduction into the process.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will result in a shakedown of the sector, according to Richards: “I think COVID is an Extinction Level Event for aviation. So they have to choose. Organisms that live through huge shocks are never the biggest, or the fastest its actually the ones that adapt best. And this is an opportunity for aviation to look at how it works, and change some things.”

“So the way that passengers themselves want to go through an airport there’s been a demand building for quite some time that they want simplification. It should be easier to book easier to get through the airport. And the processes are kind of like interlocked. So it’s not very easy to say, Okay, let’s bring in a new process. However COVID kind of forces that. And instead of just introducing a touchless than a seamless process, and it looks great, and it’s very spectacular, it has to be something that drives cost down.”

Subscribe to the FINN weekly newsletter