SIA trials new app to verify Covid-19 test results of passengers; adopts industry framework for potential vaccine passport

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

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

Rather than check health certificates manually for their authenticity, immigration staff will be able to scan a QR code using an app that was developed by a Temasek-linked technology company.

This will in turn shorten the time needed for travellers to clear immigration and improve their travel experience amid the ongoing pandemic, said the carrier on Wednesday (Dec 23).

The new service can also be used to verify the Covid-19 vaccination statuses of travellers and potentially act as a vaccine passport of sorts, 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 industry-wide standards in the reopening of borders.

The airline's acting senior vice-president for marketing planning JoAnn Tan 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 a traveller’s Covid-19 test result and vaccination status “may become very relevant information” for cross border travel.

On SIA’s partnership with Iata on the digital verification system, Mr Ong said the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) 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 and the result's authenticity, is done manually by officials at Changi Airport.

Under SIA's trial starting on Wednesday, travellers on its flights from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur can take advantage of the new 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 local airport staff and immigration officials using a mobile app developed by Temasek-founded technology company Affinidi.

The app can also flag issues such as an expired test result.

SIA is working with several organisations, such as the Ministry of Transport, CAAS, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and Changi Airport Group (CAG) on the trials.

If the trials are successful, the verification service will be rolled out to SIA's flights from other cities. SIA 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.

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

Iata's senior vice-president for airport, passenger, cargo and security Nick Careen said on Wednesday that the partnership with SIA will show that people can resume travel with confidence that they are meeting Covid-19 entry requirements in their destination country.

"This will help ensure that SIA's customers will be among the first to benefit as governments reopen their borders with testing or vaccination requirements," he added.

CAAS director of airport operations regulation and aviation security Margaret Tan said the trials are an important step to facilitate the return of air travel. She said the authority will work with its partners to take on such solutions to help air travel recover.

"It is an innovative approach to ensure a seamless travel journey whilst ensuring that health and border agencies are reassured that the passengers have the necessary health credentials to protect public health," she added.

"We hope that other countries and airlines will consider taking a similar approach."

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said SIA’s introduction of the digital verification system will help travellers fulfil a series of requirements, but will not facilitate a recovery in passenger traffic. 

“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.