RwandAir: The First African Airline to Implement the IATA Health Passport

Health and Security
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
May 7, 2021

As lockdowns and travel bans continue to take a heavy toll on the global aviation industry, testing and vaccination remain the keys to saving the travel industry. Due to the severity of the Covid-19 virus and it's ability to spread rather rapidly, countries were quick to set their own requirements requesting travellers to present negative test certificates and travel justifications along with routine travel documents. While these measures may limit viral transmission, the added paperwork has led to increased congestion in airport queues along with travellers having to take extra measures to meet the requirements of different destinations. In an effort to improve the situation, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) has created Travel Pass, a mobile application to facilitate travel during the pandemic.

RwandAir became the first African airline to utilize the Travel Pass application in March 2021. As Rwanda’s flag carrier, the country’s sole airline currently operates a fleet of twelve aircraft with models such as the A330-200 and two Boeing 737-700s. The airline performs scheduled flights to destinations including Dubai, London, Brussels, Mumbai, and Guangzhou.

What is the IATA Health Passport?

To assist in the global effort in curbing the transmission of Covid-19, and to facilitate the speedy recovery of the world’s aviation industry, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass is a mobile application that allows travellers to efficiently present their covid related documents to airline authorities. The application is designed to be integrated with the existing software of airline companies.

Like its predecessor, the carte jaune that was used in the past to regulate travel during times of such diseases as cholera, smallpox and yellow fever, the Travel Pass comes with the added benefit of verifying the authenticity of test and vaccination certificates, singling out fraudulent documents. It must be noted that the IATA Travel Pass does not guarantee its users unrestricted travel or quarantine waiving and it has no connection to national passports issued by governments.

The main goal of the IATA Travel Pass is to streamline travel inconveniences caused by the pandemic and so contribute to the recovery of the global aviation sector. Aside from easily accessing country-specific travel requirements, finding testing centres and labs, users will be able to add a photo of their passport to the application along with all testing and vaccination documents.

In the end, this information can be accessed by airlines through a contactless scan that both increases check-in efficiency along with minimizing transmission possibility.

“What the Travel Pass is designed to do is to digitize (paper COVID-19  test results), so instead of having to show up at the airport with your piece of paper and queue up in a line and wait for someone to validate it, and then subsequently get through a check-in process and then onboard an aircraft, we’re proposing that you would be able to do that electronically. It’s digitizing an existing manual process as it stands today.”

Nick Careen - Senior Vice President - IATA

The Travel Pass Comes to Africa

RwandAir pioneers in African aviation being the first airline on the continent to trial the IATA Travel Pass

RwandAir began testing the Travel Pass Health passport in April 2021, first implementing it for a period of three weeks with passengers travelling between Kigali and Nairobi.

“RwandAir is showing its industry leadership in Africa by ecoming the first airline on the continent to trial IATA Travel Pass. RwandAir has long used IATA products as the most reliable source of information on entry requirements. This trial will build on that history of working in partnership and takes us a step further in the context of COVID-19. IATA Travel Pass will give governments the confidence to re-open their borders knowing that arriving passengers are in full compliance with any testing or vaccination requirements"

explains Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO.

Other airlines to have recently tested the travel pass include Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, along with Qatar Airways.

Will Everyone Sign Up?

While the concept of the Travel Pass seems promising to travellers, if such applications grow to see regular use, it may discriminate against those with no access to testing and/or vaccination services, those limited by health restrictions or those who don't readily have access to Internet connectivity. It must be reinforced that the Travel Pass will not substitute regular passports and the final decision with regards to the right of passage is in the hands of world governments. With regards to RwandAir, at Eways we believe that the implementation of the travel pass was a great step and are glad to see one of Africa’s most promising airlines act as a role model to the rest of the continent.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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