HomeRegional & Int'lRwanda and Ethiopia lead African airline digitization

Rwanda and Ethiopia lead African airline digitization

By Our Business Desk

Rwandair and Ethiopian, the airlines leading the way for African carriers in digital Covid-19 safety measures.

Rwandair and Ethiopian are the only African airlines using the IATA TravelPass to screen passenger Covid-19 credentials so far, significantly cutting the time such travelers spend in airport terminals.

Globally, more than 100 airlines have so far signed up to the app that started piloting on March 15, with Singapore International Airlines. Adoption has however been slow in Africa where only Rwandair and Ethiopian are participating in the pilot. Another undisclosed ten African airlines are in discussions with IATA to get on board.

TravelPass is a downloadable secure app that was developed by IATA in the wake of mounting restrictions to travel by governments across the globe. Linked to hundreds of accredited test laboratories around the world, it can display a passenger’s Covid-19 vaccination status and PCR test information on mobile devices.

The app directly picks test results from accredited labs, which eliminates paper documents and significantly reduces fraudulent Covid-19 test certificates. The information can then be digitally accessed at different points of the passenger journey, eliminating the hassle involved in the verification of fraud-prone paper-based health certificates.

Passengers download the app on their mobile devices to create a digital identity through which they can pre-book their Covid-19 tests and upload the results together with their travel information. Although governments are yet to agree on a single digital standard for health certification, IATA has been urging governments to support TravelPass.

The airline lobby has warned that without quick adoption of digital verification of Passengers Covid-19 status, airports will get clogged if travel rebounds to 2019 levels. On average airport dwell time for passengers could increase five-fold from the current 1.5 hours to could to as long as eight hours. That is because analogue procedures eliminate available digital processing channels such as online check-in.

“If we continue using paper-based processes, waiting times would go from 1.5 hours to 8 hours at 2019 levels of traffic,” IATA chief executive Willie Walsh says, warning that is that happens, the industry faces imminent collapse again because a majority of people would simply give up on traveling. “TravelPass can help verify compliance but governments are yet to accept it,” Walsh says.

Adoption has been slow partly because of different digital standards. Only seven governments have so far accepted TravelPass at their entry points while another 56 are in talks with IATA.

IATA says the industry is on a slow path to recovery and bookings for the second half of the year are looking up although still way below pre-pandemic levels. The recovery is driven by domestic travel in countries that have relaxed travel restrictions in tandem with Covid-19 vaccination.

“The picture is varied but we are seeing positive indications and we are more positive about the second half as more countries are beginning to relax,” Walsh says citing Canada, which has reopened travel with the USA. Travel with another seven countries will be added starting September.

Recovery across Asia is slow because restrictions remain in place with countries such as Australia still maintaining internal barriers to inter-state travel.  

Walsh says Africa is still a challenge because of low levels testing and vaccination for Covid-19. He also described the resurging infections in the United Kingdom as supportive of the theory that vaccines protect people.

“Although we are seeing high levels of infections, it is not translating into hospitalization and this is what we expected,” he said.

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