While COVID-19 still impacts our everyday lives, the broader adoption of vaccines is encouraging a reopening of borders. As the G7 Summit gathered in the U.K., airline and airport leaders made their case for a return to transatlantic travel and free movement within Europe.
ACI EUROPE and ACI World have jointly written to the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, voicing support for the continued development and swift implementation of digital health passes. They have asked the G7 Summit to recognize the need for standardization, and seamless integration of health passes into the journey to avoid unmanageable queues at airports as passenger numbers increase.
ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec and ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said, “Airports stand ready to assist in any way they can, but they need Governments to provide the necessary regulatory frameworks, technical support, and resources for the effective and successful implementation of digital health passes.
“We urge the G7 leaders to grasp this crucial opportunity to support the development and introduction of digital health passes and, most importantly, to take all possible steps to ensure the interoperability and integration of these passes in the passenger journey. Indeed, the use of the health passes that are safe, reliable and protect the data of users will have benefits beyond the aviation industry and could be used for other social and economic activities.
“For a system of interoperable digital health passes to have the best chance of success, there needs to be equity of access for those who do not hold a digital certificate and to ensure that all qualified travelers are able to satisfy the necessary border requirements with the minimum of restrictions or controls.”
ACI EUROPE has previously warned governments about the travel complications wrought by multiple and diverse COVID-19 checks. Checks on COVID-19 tests at departure were duplicated or even triplicated at 77% of Europe’s airports, as the airport association stated this May.
“Airports are desperate to see their facilities coming back to life, reconnecting their communities, and supporting the much-needed recovery of Europe. But the level of both uncertainty and complexity in planning for the restart is just mind-blowing for now,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE. “With each passing day, the prospect of travelers enduring widespread chaos at airports this summer is becoming more real. We absolutely and urgently need Governments to step up advance planning on the full range of issues involved – and work more closely with airports and airlines.”
Airlines likewise made their needs known. During the annual A4E Aviation Summit — held virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions — CEOs of Europe’s biggest airlines urged governments to restore freedom of movement for citizens and gradually lift all travel restrictions this summer. They cited rising vaccinations and the E.U.’s Digital COVID Certificate system as tools to facilitate reopening.
The E.U. Digital COVID Certificate works through a Q.R. code with a digital signature to protect it against falsification. This QR is scanned when the certificate is checked and the signature verified. Each issuing body (hospital, test center, or health authority) has a unique digital signature key, all stored in a secure database in each country. The European Commission has built a digital gateway to verify signatures while protecting the data of the individual certificate holder. The European Commission has also helped Member States develop national apps which help manage the certificate.
“The science is clear that unrestricted, safe travel is possible for many intra-European flights already – and this will only increase as the vaccine rolls out further. We all have a responsibility, including European governments, to ensure that European travel is accessible and affordable for everyone – tests and certificates cannot become the new norm in travel”, said Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet and A4E’s 2021 Chair. “We believe now is the time for Europe to safely start to fully reopen. This will enable a quicker recovery not only for the aviation sector, but for Europe’s wider economy, and it will be for the benefit of European citizens who long to visit family and friends or get away on a long-awaited holiday.”
Airlines have also urged leaders in the U.S. and U.K. to work toward a reopening of transatlantic travel.
The six largest airlines that fly between the U.S. and the U.K. pushed for a reopening of travel between the two countries. The CEOs of American, British Airways, Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic, and JetBlue appeared jointly via video conference, calling on President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reach an agreement on a U.S.-U.K. travel corridor when they met ahead of the G7 Summit.
The airline leaders urged the U.K. to place the U.S. on its “green list” of countries, exempting incoming travelers from a 10-day quarantine, and asked the U.S. to end its ban on most incoming travel from the U.K.
“The U.K. and the U.S. have led the world in their vaccine program, and now it is time for the citizens of those two countries to benefit from that with the options of travel,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said.
As Reuters reports, the Biden administration has been working towards reopening international travel by forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.
The latest update (June 10) from the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) still recommends against international travel unless travelers have been fully vaccinated. Still, the CDC guidelines include testing recommendations for those who need to travel but have not yet received a vaccine.
In the U.S., the confirmation of vaccinated status consists of a card issued by the CDC. However, there are still multiple solutions in various stages of development and adoption, from IATA’s Travel Pass to the IBM Digital Health Pass, to VeriFLY and Clear, and others.
This wealth of options may lead to traveler confusion. Interoperability and uniform recognition of different Pass platforms, based on clearly defined universal guidelines, will be crucial to avoid a bumpy return to the skies.