Blockchain is a technology that carries a lot of baggage in terms of hype and confusion. This is, in part, due to blockchain’s association with cryptocurrencies, which have had a turbulent history. However, cryptocurrency is just one of the many potential applications for blockchain technology and some of the most promising use cases lie outside of the finance industry altogether.
Put simply, blockchain is no more than a highly sophisticated tool for good and safe record keeping. Its fundamental traits are that it is decentralised and secure (in that it is near impossible to tamper with): two characteristics that any industry which relies on high data integrity - such as the aviation industry - could take advantage of.
Aviation is so especially reliant on good record keeping because of the high risk associated with data quality, and the increasing demand for accurate data as part of both operational and security processes for airlines. We are, after all, talking about people moving across borders and thousands of planes flying across the sky every day.
How Blockchain is enabling data sharing in aviation
Blockchain has the real potential to solve a problem that will be familiar to those working in aviation: that there are advantages to sharing data, but at the moment it is impossible because datasets are siloed and separated. This means that passenger identity verifications can only be relied upon once, at huge cost to the industry because the data cannot be re-used by the airline or other stakeholders.
The reason for this is to protect the privacy and sensitive personal data of the passengers. However, blockchain allows a secure version of that data that can be shared more effectively - while being inaccessible to third parties, and immune to attacks thanks to the decentralised nature of Blockchain, where every party will have access to the same copy of the ledger database and be able to spot any inconsistencies.
Using the blockchain, once a passenger has first identified themselves, and their identity has been verified authenticated, their ID can be tokenized as a set of mathematical signals that can be used again and again by different parties (airlines, governments, border security) to mark a passenger as verified. Coupled with signals about passenger biometrics this removes the need for a passenger to present multiple documents at several touch-points, reducing the duplication of ID check process, which is the very thing creating the queues and friction that we have at airports today.
Blockchain’s ability to allow passengers to move through the airport without their passports ever leaving their pockets makes it key to IATA’s concept of ONE ID for airlines - an “end-to-end passenger experience that is secure, seamless and efficient”. The thinking behind the idea is intuitive as it is ambitious: to provide passengers with a frictionless airport experience that allows them to get from the entrance to the gate without “breaking their stride”.
The vision of ONE ID
ONE ID is a win-win for both passengers and airlines. Not having to repeatedly provide ID within the airport will obviously have a hugely positive effect on customer experience, especially as customers are used to (and are increasingly expecting) technology to make services faster, easier and more readily available. According to research from IATA, a queuing time above 10 minutes is now considered unacceptable by the majority of passengers. Not only does ONE ID mean happier passengers for airlines, but it also means serious efficiency savings. While customer expectations are increasing, so are passenger numbers, which is putting strain on airport infrastructure. This is in turn creating pressure on airlines to increase efficiency to accommodate higher volumes of passengers going through security, border checks, and catching flights every day.
One of the challenges standing in the way of greater efficiency is data inaccuracy. It is estimated that travellers are only 50 percent accurate when filling out the information required to fly, which means airlines spend time, money and resources on the ground correcting that data in the last few critical hours pre-departure. Failure to do so can result in hefty fines from governments, who are increasingly intolerant of APIS data errors.
Blockchain’s standard of data integrity and security will immediately reduce or completely remove a large portion of these costs. A passenger’s ID cannot be tampered with and is checked a cross-checked with multiple data points, removing the likelihood of human error, and increasing confidence in the advanced data set as provided by the passenger pre-airport. Putting aside the hype, the majority of blockchain use cases out there would probably be better solved using traditional system architecture. However, the aviation industry’s structure and challenges around data that is sensitive, or siloed – or both - perfectly fit the challenges blockchain was designed to address. Within complex, multi-stakeholder and trust-less environments – blockchain, applied well, has the potential to open doors to collaboration that were previously inaccessible. The ability to finally safely share data in aviation is what will allow the vision of ONE ID to become a reality.
Aleksandr Gorelik, CTO and Head of Product of VChain Technology CTO, co-founder, and head of product at VChain Technology, Alex draws his expertise from over 15 years of experience in enterprise software for the travel industry. This industry experience, combined with Alex’s background as a full stack developer, has made him one of the first to adopt blockchain technology for a non-financial use cases. Alex is also a member of IATA’s ONE ID working group, which is implementing the vision of an “end-to-end passenger experience that is secure, seamless and efficient.