Could this be the safety screening tool to kickstart business travel?

Global pilots for a digital health pass begin this month on selected Cathay Pacific and United Airlines flights.

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If the pilots prove a success, CommonPass will be rolled out to more airlines. The additional cost for implementation could be borne upon travellers in future. Photo Credit: doble-d/Getty Images

Trials have started for CommonPass, a digital health screening tool that may eliminate the need for quarantines and provide confidence for governments to open borders that are now sealed by the pandemic.

It's being developed by the nonprofit Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Thirty-seven countries, along with the CDC and Customs and U.S. Border Protection, are participating in the project.

With CommonPass, travellers would take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab, upload their results to their phones and complete any additional health-screening questions that their destination requires. CommonPass will verify the travellers has met the destination's requirements and generate a QR code that can be scanned by airlines and border officials.

Dr Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, said in a statement that the "CDC is eager to learn from the CommonPass pilot, as it could be one of the many potential tools that may one day contribute to a safe, responsible and healthy global air travel experience".

Among private companies involved is Internova. "A verifiable record of each passenger's Covid testing status will help restore confidence in travel," Internova Travel Group CEO JD O'Hara said in a statement. "Internova Travel Group is encouraging all industry groups to support this effort to open safe and secure travel lanes." 

Internova's involvement began early in the process after Commons Project CEO Paul Meyer approached Certares, Internova's majority owner.

Peter Vlitas, Internova's senior vice president of airline relations, is bullish on CommonPass, seeing it as superior to unstandardised emails with test results that are typically within a PDF, which could be manipulated.

The CommonPass system will be tested this month with Cathay Pacific and United Airlines on flights between London, Newark, NJ, Hong Kong and Singapore. (An Internova employee, likely Vlitas or O'Hara, will be on United's Newark-to-Heathrow flight, Vlitas said.) If initial trials are successful, CommonPass will be rolled out to additional airlines and routes.

Although it's unclear at this point who would pay for a broader implementation, Vlitas said he imagines it would be a cost that airlines would pass on to travellers.

And looking ahead, he added, if CommonPass should be successful as a verification of tests, it could later also be used to verify whether a traveller has been vaccinated.

This story was first published in Travel Weekly.