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SITA uses blockchain, decentralized identity for pilot license verification


The technology provider owned by the air transport sector, SITA, has developed a blockchain-based solution to enable airlines to verify pilot licenses offline. Using blockchain for offline verification seems like a contradiction, but SITA clarified the methodology. 

Stepping back, digital ‘electronic personnel licenses’ (EPLs) provide several advantages. They can’t be easily tampered with, and blockchain can be used to verify the issuer. So the only real ways to commit fraud would be somehow to commit identity theft which could be tricky visually, bribe the issuer, or hack the verifier’s mobile app. All of which are far harder than tweaking a paper-based license. 

Also, issuing a digital license can take just a few days, whereas a paper-based license can take weeks. Not to mention, the pilot has to physically collect a paper-based version which is inconvenient for someone constantly traveling.

But what happens if there’s no internet connectivity when an airline has to verify the credential?

How it works

The licenses themselves are not stored on a blockchain. Instead, the licensor would issue an EPL to the pilot as a verifiable credential to be stored in a phone wallet. That helps to safeguard privacy.

Using the self-sovereign identity solution Hyperledger Aries, almost everything works peer to peer between the license issuer and the pilot and between the pilot and the verifier.

When the license is granted, the issuer uses its private key to provide a digital signature. The associated public key is stored on the blockchain, and this key is used to verify the credential. SITA’s solution stores a copy of all the public keys used to verify the credentials in the verifier’s app. Hence, if there’s no internet connection, it checks the key used to sign the license matches one of the locally stored keys.

After a proof of concept in 2020, SITA integrated its decentralized identity solution with the Civil Aviation Authority of China’s EPL system. Given the possibility has been proven, in March 2022, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will consider adopting a new International standard for EPLs.

The aviation sector is no stranger to decentralized identity. To get passengers moving during the pandemic, many travel pass solutions have adopted the technology. These include health certificates from IATASITAIBMGE, and many others.