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Emirates trials GE blockchain COVID-19 travel app

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GE Digital partnered with traceability startup TE-FOOD and laboratory service Eurofins to develop an app that facilitates passenger adherence to Covid-19 related traveling requirements and blockchain verification of test results. These types of apps are sometimes referred to as “immunity passports” or “health passports”. While the GE app was first unveiled in June last year, on Sunday, Emirates Airlines announced it is currently trialing the solution in five countries.

Besides mandatory quarantines, many countries require individuals to present a negative Covid-19 PCR test at airport border control. The test must be taken up to 72 hours before departure. Portugal, Spain, France and others imposed the protocol during the Summer, and the UK adopted the measure in mid-December. Some airlines such as United also require individuals to present the negative test before boarding.

For passengers, administering the logistics of undergoing PCR tests and getting back the results within the time frames is quite a hassle. Some lab centers only administer rapid or antigen tests and some testing centers can take four to five days to deliver the results. Furthermore, the financial cost adds up. The U.S. is an extreme example where prices can range from $23 to $2,315 without insurance. In Dubai, prices can go up to  250 AED per person ($68) 

TrustOne, the app developed by GE and TE-Food, will enable Emirates passengers to take a Covid-19 PCR test provided by Eurofins at a discount rate. Users will also be able to search for locations administering tests and book appointments. In addition, the results are delivered straight to the app. GE Digital said other features will be added to facilitate verification and ease the user’s experience of traveling during the pandemic. 

The app is already available for download on iOS and Android devices. 

Emirates’ initial trial applies to flights leaving the UAE, France, UK, Spain and the Netherlands and is already in use. For now, passengers are still required to print the PCR test and present a physical copy at the airport, but Emirates expects that the next phase, predicted to commence in a couple months, will enable passengers to use the app to validate test results when checking in. 

“Travel requirements today are dynamic, and even more than ever, our goal is to give our customers confidence and enable them to travel safely,” said Emirates’ COO Adel al Redha. “With this latest solution, provided in partnership by GE Digital Aviation Software and TE Food, passengers will be able to easily source accurate information on tests, approved laboratories to get tested, as well as other vital measures to be taken prior to travel.”

In the past, TE-FOOD focused on promoting its track and trace solutions in the food sector and has deals with French retailer Auchan, Swiss-based Migros and others. The company expanded its portfolio by partnering with GE Aviation which began using blockchain to track the ancestry of certain aircraft components. TE-FOOD technology was initially used to track documents, events, maintenance repairs and other aspects related to aircrafts. 

The partnership expanded to other initiatives and the companies have been collaborating on solutions, including TrustOne to address travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The first iteration of TrustOne was unveiled in June 2020 when it was announced that GE Aviation had developed a blockchain solution with TE-FOOD and Eurofins that screens passenger and staff health status before boarding. It also has a protocol to ensure that airports and aircraft follow cleaning procedures. Albany’s Airport was the first to fully integrate the platform by placing QR codes through various spots that could be scanned to track when they were last disinfected. 

At the time, GE’s David Havera told Ledger Insights, “we need planes to fly in order for us to make money. So we’re invested in solving this in the short term and in the longterm and then post COVID. Our solution will have residual value because we’ll work with airlines on track and trace of maintenance.”

Meanwhile, Emirates will also trial IATA’s Travel Pass platform, which uses blockchain technology to facilitate the airlines’ verification of passengers and staff’s Covid-19 credentials. Trials for that solution start in April and are initially limited to Dubai, whereas TrustOne trials have already started.