Challenges on the horizon
Bridging the gap between Covid testing and border processes
Borders have rarely been under as much scrutiny or pressure as they have experienced during the Covid pandemic. Alongside border closures, nations needed information on those intending to enter their countries that had never been requested before such as health information and medical test results.
ICTS Europe has been providing Border Management solutions for 40 years, and many of the airlines and airports we work with asked us to help them with both these needs. We were able to adjust our Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) solution to help nations deny boarding to all but residents and citizens, or those from countries (or even airports) that the nation deemed high risk. Similarly, we took our experience of building and running the first integrated Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system, to develop a Health ETA that acted as a combined Declaration, Attestation and Passenger Locator Form (PLF) solution. This web-based solution also includes risk analysis and security clearance to allow nations to issue approvals to travel.
Both these solutions help nations protect their citizens and get valuable information on travelers.
It should also be noted that in response to the Covid pandemic, we were trying to connect two complex and highly regulated industries: healthcare and testing laboratories, and travel and transportation. Each had their own rules, regulations, and formats pertaining to personal data, sharing, and privacy – and there were little similarity or mapping between them. The most obvious of these was related to identity verification and binding. For example, some test labs use name and insurance policy details as identity verifiers – not information that is particularly useful to international travel, which relies on government issued passports or ID cards.
The industry is looking at how these issues can be resolved. It is very positive to see how well technology providers, carriers, port authorities, and integrators have come together to work on collaborative solutions. Much of the initial work was on how to get test results to airlines – mainly utilizing health pass apps, such as those from IATA, AOK or The Commons Project. These apps also acted as the decision-making engine by assessing the validity of the test against the Covid rules imposed by the relevant government authorities, generating an “OK/NOT OK” result. There have been some very successful tests of these apps and they have gone some way to demonstrate to the authorities that health status information can be safely and securely processed electronically. However, this is only one part of the challenges facing the industry to get us back operating at any level of volume.
Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that it is virtually certain that there won’t be a single app for the industry. Airlines, alliances, and countries may have preferred solutions, but they as well as airports and government authorities, will have to work with a vast variety of apps, and of course paper-based information. There has been work to try and align the apps with standard, interoperable underlying technology. However, even when this works, there remains the issue that personnel have to intervene in the travellers journey to scan the app or QR code to verify the results and give the go ahead to move to the next step in the process. This intervention is happening at least twice – at check in and immigration – and potentially several additional times too, with significant time and cost penalties for all stakeholders. Clearly, we cannot operate these additional, non-aligned checks if we are to return to sustainable volumes of passengers, but just as clearly, we need to maintain the integrity of the borders.
While some airline system providers can integrate multiple pass schemes into their systems, this only applies to their airline customers. Similarly, this does not allow for easy integration with declarations required by governments or with passenger processing automation in airports.
For this reason, ICTS is working with pass scheme providers and other stakeholders to develop the Health Protect ecosystem, connecting our own solutions, such as the declaration capabilities of Health ETA, in airport Passenger Processing and denial of boarding or check in with APP Protect, with third parties. Importantly, Health Protect integrates with the existing airline, airport, and government process, allowing the health status checks to be carried out simultaneously and as invisibly as possible. At the heart of this is the Health Hub, a gateway that allows travelers to share health information either from the declaration system or from scheme providers, and for this to be securely shared at the right time to the right stakeholder.
This will allow governments to more easily combine data from declaration or passenger locator forms with health pass or self-entered information, in a machine readable way. This will allow existing automation, such as immigration eGates to be reactivated and significantly reduce the delays of five or six hours seen at some ports. Similarly, we can rely on outbound automation to ensure checks are effective, timely, and part of the processes that have been safely and securely checking travelers for years.
The industry is coming together to restore confidence in travel. Hopefully, authorities will join this journey.