Airports warn of operational risks when implementing the EU Digital COVID Certificate
A4E, ACI Europe, ERA and IATA have written to EU Heads of States calling for the harmonisation of EU Digital COVID Certificate verification standards and protocols.
Ahead of the 1 July 2021 deadline for European Union (EU) Member States to implement the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) system – the crucial enabler for the restoration of freedom of movement within Europe – airlines and airports have warned of major operational risks due to the inconsistent approach by Member States in applying the DCC across Europe.
In a joint letter sent on 28 June 2021 to EU Heads of State by Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry urged leaders to harmonise DCC verification standards and protocols to avoid unnecessary airport queues and ensure a smooth passenger experience.
While the European Commission (EC) has worked closely with the industry and delivered in record time the adequate framework allowing for common and fully interoperable DCCs, no less than 10 different national approaches and solutions are currently under review across the EU.
Combined with a lack of full and effective integration of the DCC in the passenger journey, as well as duplication of document checks both pre-departure and upon arrival (average check-in processing times, for example, have increased by 500 per cent to 12 minutes per passenger), the current state of play threatens the success of summer 2021’s air travel restart and will undermine the free movement of citizens across the EU. These issues have just been flagged by the European Commission which, on 28 June 2021, issued the recommendations and guidance to EU states to address them.
In particular, verification of the DCC must take place well in advance of departure and ahead of passengers arriving at the airport (‘off airport’), together with Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) and without duplication of checks.
“With the peak summer travel season upon us, the EU thankfully now has a number of tools and measures available to enable and support the restarting of air connectivity, alongside travel and tourism. We need Member States to urgently implement these tools in a harmonised and effective manner. We view these as essential prerequisites to travel, to avoid long passenger queues and waiting times which would create new health hazards and inevitably result in operational issues for airports and airlines”, said the four associations in their joint letter to Heads of State.
To ensure a smooth travel restart, airlines and airports continue to urge all Member States to:
- Develop a state portal to facilitate DCC verification directly by national authorities and limit health data processing by airlines. This online verification – when done off-airport through the state portal – should result in a standard signal, such as a QR code, provided by the passenger to the airline to facilitate the issuance of the online boarding pass
- Ensure that the state portal for DCC verification also integrates the verification of the PLF form, ideally using the EU Digital Passenger Locator Form (dPLF), allowing the seat number to be provided after check-in
- Ensure that the remaining DCC verification that is taking place at airports for holders of paper DCCs can be conducted using one single verifier app
- Refrain from requesting DCC verification on arrival, as it would “serve little medical purpose, and could lead to unnecessary queuing” – as recognised in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Aviation Health Safety Protocol.
European aviation remains one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. According to the latest EUROCONTROL forecast, aviation is not expected to make a full recovery before 2024 at the earliest. Passenger traffic across the EU/EEA/Swiss airport network was still down by 77 per cent in early June 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Similarly, the recovery in air connectivity is proceeding at a slow pace, with over 5,600 air routes lost in June 2021 compared to June 2019. On the other hand, the desire to travel is strong, with 61 per cent of the Europeans’ surveyed wanting to travel between June 2021 and the next two months. In addition, passengers support digitalisation processes: 89 per cent want globally standardised COVID-19 test or vaccination certifications.
Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), EUROCONTROL, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), European Regions Airline Association (ERA), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), International Air Transport Association (IATA)