Revitalize Air Travel Through Testing

Oct. 22, 2020
The International Chamber of Commerce is calling on the adoption of a global standard for pre-departure COVID-19 testing as a means of restarting air travel and tourism, and is piloting the technology to make verifying tests feasible.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is leading the call to re-start global travel and tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key to that is regaining passenger trust, with pre-departure COVID-19 testing the way to do it, the organization said.

“In aviation, it has to be about pre-departure testing,” said John Denton, ICC secretary general. “If we can do that, then we can remove what is the greatest barrier to opening up travel and tourism, which is the quarantine system.”

The call came during an online panel discussion Oct. 22, hosted by the ICC and included members from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), World Travel and Tourism Council, TAV Airports Holding, Aeroporti di Roma and Air travel OK (AOK).

The goal is to have flights that are 100 percent certifiably COVID-19 free, giving passengers and the nations they travel to the ease of mind that there is no infection risk onboard. Thusly, the ICC is calling on a global standard of testing and has been engaged in debates for the past months to start shifting policy in that direction. Without a global mandatory testing standard, Denton said that anything else will fall short of what is needed to return aviation’s pre-pandemic levels.

“We have to get to that point – that’s what we are aiming for,” he added. “The ability of the global world to operative effectively with simplicity here is by developing a global standard.”

The initiative’s slogan is A Ticket, A Test (#ATicketATest).

Ivan Bassato, executive vice president airport management, Aeroporti di Roma, spoke from the airport’s personal experiences of just how critical pre-flight testing is to the flying public. The airport has experienced an 80 percent decrease in traffic, even after Rome’s lockdowns were lifted and the first wave of the virus had passed. Bassato said the airport had tried numerous campaigns to regain the public’s confidence, all to no avail.

It was not until the airport began testing that they saw a positive response from would-be passengers.

“We ran through an analysis; we tried to understand why all of our efforts to build a safe airport, to communicate that air travel was safe … wasn’t taking passenger back to the system,” Bassato said.

Bassato pointed to one critical factor being Rome’s strict guidelines, which allow only certain people into the country and require arriving passengers to be quarantined, and created a lack of confidence among travelers, he said.

In August, the airport knew they would face a harsh fall and winter season if they could not restore that confidence.

“We came up very easily with the idea that we need to test passengers before departure,” Bassato said.

By mid-August, the airport began testing passengers. Since then the airport’s testing capacities have grown to meet demand.

The airport’s testing is done in coordination with the government and local health authorities. They test both inside the airport and via drive throughs. Inside the airport, 26 medical boxes can screen 2,400 passengers a day. The drive through has six testing lanes and can perform 3,000 tests per day.

Since inception, more than 40,000 passengers have been tested via the airport’s operations and Bassato said that the passenger response to the testing initiatives has been positive. 

“This is a concept that we consider extremely viable to revitalize air travel and tourism between different regions of the world,” Bassato added.

Of course, testing does little to help if it isn’t verifiable, but the ICC has an answer for the problem. Partnering with AKO, ICC is offering the AOKpass – a blockchain-powered platform and mobile, allowing users to securely verify their health with third parties.

Still in its pilot phase, Chester Drum, co-founder AOKpass, said four principals are guiding AOKpass’ global role outs: Security/ Privacy is paramount, medical information needs to be on an individual level, people with and without smart phone need access, the laboratories who provide test results should not have to risk the integrity of their medical information.

“You have to have absolute security in the authentication of the solution, not just because people try to cheat, but because you need that trust, that global trust if this is ever going to work,” Drum said. “We shouldn’t take all the medical information and put it together. It should be decentralized so the individuals control it, and it is never taken from them for another purpose.”

AOKpass has already partnered with numerous airports around the global, such as Italy, Singapore, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and partnerships have been proposed at seven airports in North America.