Airlines want vaccine passports but don’t want to pay for them

The EU is moving forward and plans to roll out a ‘digital green certificate’, a document for storing information about Covid-19 such as vaccination records and test results. Governments, airports and airlines hope this will boost travel across the bloc by making it easier. to check if passengers have been vaccinated.

“Vaccines are what will ultimately allow us to start to recover as an industry,” said Olivier Jankovec, managing director of Airports Council International Europe, an airport trade body. “This is what will allow Europeans to be mobile again.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that people fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus can travel without serious risk, making their general travel advice easier.

The EU’s plan is still evolving, but governments are ramping up the project for deployment in mid-June. The basic concept: Europeans vaccinated will receive a certificate, paper or electronic, with a barcode that can be scanned at airports to verify vaccination.

While airlines are supporting the effort, they are pushing against initial proposals that could put them in charge of running the system. They are also resisting the idea of ​​barcode scanning at airports, saying it could increase check-in wait times. Many airports are already subject to long queues, under the weight of new health checks demanded of airmen during the pandemic.

The EU sets up the system in the same way it manages travel visas for citizens outside the normally visa-free area of ​​the Union. While visa inspection is officially carried out by border guards, airlines have long been given the task of verifying whether passengers have the correct visas before boarding. Airlines can face fines of up to 10,000 euros, or $ 11,700, in some European jurisdictions if they allow a traveler to land in a country without the proper visa.

Airlines say they can’t afford the risk of further fines like this or the additional costs of policing Covid-19 vaccines and documentation. Carriers burned $ 140 billion in cash between March and December last year, according to estimates by the International Air Transport Association, and are expected to lose up to $ 95 billion in 2021.

“Airlines cannot afford to bear the costs of these improvements,” said Thomas Reynaert, managing director of Airlines for Europe, which represents airlines including British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA. , Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air France-KLM Group. All new costs will be borne by all airlines operating from European airports, and not just European carriers, according to the proposal.

It is not yet clear how much the system could cost. Airlines are concerned that they will have to bear the costs of additional personnel and equipment to operate the system, as well as to integrate it into the airlines’ existing infrastructure, in addition to possible fines.

The EU’s proposal provides $ 49 million to develop a central gateway that governments can connect to, each separately determining how best to implement it nationally, including how verification checks will be managed on the ground, said Johannes Bahrke, spokesperson for the European Commission.

In some member states, governments may decide to use government officials to verify the vaccination passport, but in others the responsibility may lie with the airlines, Bahrke said.

Mr Bahrke said it was up to each state to decide on fines. Some governments are already fining airlines for failing to properly verify that passengers have the correct health documents now required in many countries.

The proposal still needs to be officially ratified by the European Parliament. In view of the deployment in June, the commission and member states have started work on developing the system, including signing contracts at the end of March to start technical work, the spokesperson said.

Countries like China, Japan, Denmark and Israel have said they are working on independent passport-vaccine systems. The World Health Organization is working with the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization to develop a global structure to support vaccine certificates.

For Europe, the introduction of vaccine passports is seen as essential to restore freedom of movement across the bloc – one of the founding principles of the EU. A system that can check a passenger’s vaccination status also frees travelers from the cost of private Covid-19 testing that is required to enter many countries. These tests can cost up to $ 200, and often two are needed.

“It’s changing the economy of travel,” said Virginia Messina, senior vice president of the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council.

Industry and the European Commission are trying to establish the broader framework of the system in time for the summer. The first step is to standardize the vaccine cards that are given to people after being vaccinated. In Europe, these cards vary widely, with different languages ​​and variations on personal details included. In the United States, there is no central database for vaccinations or standard proof of Covid-19 vaccinations like the yellow fever cards which are required for travel to many countries.

Once the system has been successfully rolled out in Europe, the Commission plans to extend it to new third country nationals. According to bilateral agreements, an arriving passenger – say, from the United States – could receive a certificate and barcode upon arrival in the block, which can then be used to travel between European countries.

The industry, concerned about physical checks creating long queues at airports, is pushing for an online system that could avoid the problem if the borders reopen by the summer. Airlines, including British Airways, run tests that allow passengers, when checking in online, to upload vaccination and test records to their travel apps, along with data already stored there. such as passport numbers and visa information.

This story was posted from an agency feed with no text editing.

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