Air New Zealand is set to ask passengers to present an app at check-in that records if they have been vaccinated for COVID or undertaken a recent test.
The business will join airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad in signing up to the IATA initiative that will operate as a trial for three weeks on its Auckland-Sydney route in April.
Air New Zealand added that it is “in conversation with government agencies” about the options for validating testing and vaccination.
Apps and vaccines passports have been a controversial topic in aviation for the past year, but the airline has insisted that “customer privacy is at the heart” of the app’s design, and health information would not be stored centrally.
“Customers will be able to create a digital health wallet linked to their e-passport,” said Air New Zealand in a statement. “Once travellers have been tested and/or vaccinated, labs will securely send data to the individual’s app. It then checks requirements for travel against the data, and customers who meet those travel requirements will be given the green tick to travel.”
IATA’s senior vice president, Nick Careen, said, “Air New Zealand’s trial of IATA Travel Pass will help give governments the confidence to reopen borders and passengers the confidence to travel.
“The app has been developed with the highest levels of data privacy and security, so passengers always remain in control of their COVID-19 health information. And governments can be confident that passengers who are ‘Ok to Travel’ are in full compliance of COVID-19 travel requirements.”
In November 2020, World of Aviation reported how the IATA finalised the technology at the end of last year with plans to roll it out in the first half of 2021.
“Our main priority is to get people travelling again safely,” Careen said then. “That means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements.”
In October 2021, Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas noted that programs such as these are likely to be a part of the future of flying.
“I can see that wellness certification will become a necessary function of how the whole of the world comes back to flying,” Douglas said at the Global Aerospace Summit. “We’ll adapt and we’ll adopt and therefore, wellness certification will probably be no (different) to how visas used to be issued to give safe passage.”
Currently, New Zealand to Australia flights are subject to a one-way ‘travel bubble’, allowing Kiwis to enter Australia without quarantine, but not the other way around.
However, Australia has since suspended the scheme twice due to small COVID outbreaks in New Zealand.
The first closure was taken after it emerged that the two new COVID cases recorded across the Tasman were also of the more transmissible South African variant.
This led to Auckland Airport predicting last week that the route would not become a two-way bubble in the first half of this year.
It follows recent comments by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that played down the potential for free travel from Australia to New Zealand despite an initial target of opening the route by the end of March.
“We have to ask the question whether or not the airlines will want to operate in an environment where within three hours, they can have cancellations for multiple days,” Prime Minister Ardern said, referring to Australia suspending the current one-way agreement for a week.
Air New Zealand’s warming to so-called vaccine passports follows Qantas’ Alan Joyce becoming the most high-profile international airline CEO to his pledge that all international passengers will require a COVID vaccine to fly.
Speaking to journalists in December, Joyce said, “Our position on this is clear. We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers, and once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services.
“There will be some exceptions for people who can’t – for medical reasons – take vaccines. And our flights to New Zealand will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID as well, just as domestic flights will be exempt.
“I acknowledge some people are opposed to vaccines in principle. We respect that. But in return, we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.”