Industries in Depth

This country is restarting air travel. Here’s how

Air travel: aeroplane in the sky in flight, showing how the airline industry can get flying again.

The State of Kuwait is showing how digital tools can breathe life back into the global airline industry. Image: Photo by Mahdi Dastmard on Unsplash

Hassan El-Houry
Group CEO, National Aviation Services
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  • The resumption of air travel will depend on the development of digital apps to manage transparent testing and vaccine data.
  • The State of Kuwait is already using three tech solutions that integrate the different elements within the airline ecosystem.
  • 6 clear lessons are emerging, with Kuwait as a test case for using digital means to breathe life back into the global airline industry.

COVID-19 struck the aviation industry with unprecedented losses as international passenger traffic dropped by about 90% and around 46 million aviation-related jobs were at risk. In Kuwait alone, those losses were in excess of $1 billion. There were repercussions for families separated, livelihoods interrupted, medical and compassionate travel delayed, education programmes canceled, among many other consequences.

As many people now hope for a resumption of air travel, health is a priority and the digitization of testing and vaccine data has a leading role to play.

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Underlying this approach is the ability to collect and access passenger data that includes pre-travel COVID-19 tests carried out by audited labs, to ensure that passengers are COVID-free. Three integrated and complementary systems form the backbone of this novel approach for Kuwait, which can serve as model for other countries.

National Aviation Services (NAS), the leading airport services company in emerging markets, worked closely with the Kuwait Ministry of Health (MOH), Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Central Agency for IT (CAIT), Ministry of Interior (MOI), other government agencies and national airlines to develop the following solutions:

Medical Utility Network Accreditor (MUNA): A patented blockchain technology connecting labs in more than 40 cities (all considered high risk) with direct flights to Kuwait. The MUNA network links audited labs with airlines and airports in real time to communicate digitized COVID-19 test results with total data privacy.

KuwaitMosafer: A web platform for passengers traveling through Kuwait International Airport. This facilitates quick and contactless processes for passengers while helping health authorities gather travel information and related health data.

BelSalamah: A web application that allows migrant workers a safe and direct passage to return to Kuwait. As of February 2021, thousands of people have registered on the portal to travel back home.

Image: flightradar24.com

In implementing these digital solutions, six important lessons are emerging:

1. Global air travel can recover if stakeholder confidence is restored

Implemented systems should instill confidence in health authorities and in passengers. KuwaitMosafer links all labs in Kuwait, helps authenticate COVID-19 testing certificates and collects health data from passengers.

This assures the local Ministry of Health and other countries that passengers coming to Kuwait or arriving from Kuwait have validated passenger and health data. NAS implemented contactless processes, ensured data privacy, provided user-friendly interfaces and assured cost-effectiveness for passengers through the platform. More than 200,000 users registered on KuwaitMosafer within two weeks of its launch.

2. Covid testing certificates need to be digital

Most countries now require a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test prior to travel. Digital certificates ensure authenticity and transferability across geographies. The MUNA network connects approved labs directly with airlines and airport systems for quick and easy verification, eliminating incidence of forged or fake certificates.

3. All COVID tests are not equal

Laboratories around the world use different testing kits - ranging from 97% to 60% accuracy. By connecting only labs that employ the highest standards and are independently audited, MUNA ensures the most reliable PCR testing technologies and procedures while assuring compliance by the laboratories.

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4. Focus on interoperability

Players within the aviation industry cannot operate in silos. Aviation connects people, systems and processes. All need to be complementary and coordinated to ensure solutions are interoperable. MUNA, KuwaitMosafer and BelSalamah all link with different countries, laboratories, airlines and airports.

Different digital health-credential systems for international travel are currently in the mix. ID2020 recently introduced a Good Health Pass Collaborative aimed to make such solutions interoperable across institutional and geographic borders. NAS is among the first endorsers of this collaborative that will help weave solutions together and fill gaps where they may exist, while facilitating collaboration among a new ecosystem of stakeholders.

5. Social responsibility matters

The accessibility of solutions to all kinds of passengers is vital. Not all technologies or solutions are easy to use or cost effective for everyone. Platforms like KuwaitMosafer and BelSalamah are simple and user friendly and cost is kept to a minimum. This has ensured a wider reach.

Following the closure of Kuwait airport and restrictions on travel from high-risk countries, over 425,000 expats were stranded outside the country. Many were the sole breadwinners for their families and desperate to get back. BelSalamah helps them return. In this context, the online payment mechanism in BelSalamah also helps eliminate the possibility of any human trafficking by matching employers with the employee and confirming consent.

6. Remain proactive and responsive

No one can predict how and when the pandemic will play out. New developments are coming through daily. In this scenario, government requirements are also constantly evolving and companies that are able to act quickly will be successful. This makes it essential for us to remain flexible, proactive and responsive.

With recent developments, vaccination records may become mandatory for travel to certain countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) may also approve other testing mechanisms. KuwaitMosafer already includes a vaccine certificate feature linking the Kuwait Ministry of Health vaccine records. MUNA is also equipped to include vaccine records and information on other methods of testing, ensuring responsiveness.

These combined efforts have helped Kuwait Airport become one of the safest in the world at this time.

The focus for these solutions in Kuwait has been to rebuild confidence and reconnect people, not just in the country itself, but beyond. Given the success of MUNA, several Middle Eastern and African governments, some major airlines, and two European airports are currently in advanced discussions with NAS to roll out the technology.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, global GDP has fallen by 4.2% with more than 114 million jobs lost. By making travel safer, we can help people get back to work, connect families with loved ones, ensure the timely delivery of cargo, allow our children to experience the world and get the global aviation industry to take off once again.

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