SIA trials service that speeds up verification of test results

The new service can be used to verify the Covid-19 vaccination statuses of travellers. PHOTO: ONG YE KUNG/FACEBOOK

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has started trials of a new service that will allow for quicker verification of Covid-19 test results, potentially paving the way for the introduction of vaccine passports.

Instead of checking health certificates manually for their authenticity, immigration staff will scan a QR code using an app developed by a Temasek-linked technology firm.

This will shorten the time needed for travellers to clear immigration and will improve their travel experience amid the pandemic, said the airline yesterday.

The new service is coming ahead of the expected introduction of vaccine-related travel rules by aviation authorities worldwide.

SIA worked with the International Air Transport Association (Iata) on the new service as part of a push to introduce industrywide standards in the reopening of borders.

Ms JoAnn Tan, SIA's acting senior vice-president for marketing planning, said: "Covid-19 tests and vaccinations will be an integral part of air travel for the foreseeable future.

"We are offering a digital solution that allows the easy and secure verification of this information, and supports the industry's safe and calibrated recovery from this pandemic."

In a Facebook post, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said his ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will support the initiative to help make it a regional or international practice.

Currently, most travellers flying into Singapore have to take a Covid-19 test within 72 hours of their flight to prove they are not infected.

The test result must be obtained from an accredited laboratory, and the verification of this result, including checks on the test date, is done manually by officials at Changi Airport.

Travellers on SIA flights from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur can take advantage of the new verification service by having their pre-entry Covid-19 tests done at selected clinics in the two cities.

The clinics will issue travellers who have negative results either a digital or paper health certificate displaying a QR code that verifies the certificate's authenticity. The code can be scanned by airport staff and immigration officials using a mobile app developed by technology company Affinidi.

If successful, the verification service will be rolled out to SIA's flights from other cities, with plans to integrate the pass into its mobile app from around June next year.

SIA is the first airline in the world to set up such a verification process based on Iata's Travel Pass framework.

Iata's platform, which is still being developed, is intended as an international digital health passport which provides proof that travellers have been tested for or vaccinated against Covid-19.

Health and security services firm International SOS said yesterday that it has also launched a similar digitally verifiable health certificate for entrance into Singapore. This was done together with the International Chamber of Commerce and AOKPass.

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said the introduction of the new systems alone will not significantly speed up recovery in air travel.

"For this technology to help facilitate a recovery, the industry still needs governments on both ends of any flight to agree to an air travel bubble or a full reopening on a bilateral basis, and also to mutually recognise Covid-19 tests and vaccines," said Mr Sobie.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2020, with the headline SIA trials service that speeds up verification of test results. Subscribe