(11 Nov 2021)
 
SITA, a technology provider for the air
transport industry, has developed a blockchain-based solution that
enables the verification of an electronic personnel license (EPL)
without network connectivity.

After setting out to create a digital standard for
the use of EPLs on international flights, the ICAO determined that the ability to verify
EPLs without network connectivity would be a necessary feature to
ensure functionality across civil aviation authorities globally.

SITA began to work on a solution to the issue of offline license
verification in 2019. Following a successful Proof of Concept in
2020 where SITA integrated its solution for offline verification
into the Civil Aviation Authority of China’s EPL system, SITA has
become the first industry partner to prove offline verification for pilot licenses, made possible specifically by using blockchain-based
decentralized identity technology.

Thai Smile Cabin Crew at Suvarnabhumi Airport near Bangkok, Thailand. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com

Miguel
Marin, Chief Operational Safety, ICAO, said, “The COVID19
pandemic has accelerated digitalization across the air transport
industry, but the benefits of adopting a digital standard for
electronic personnel licenses will last well into the long term:
providing easier, quicker collaboration across civil aviation
authorities globally, as well as a solution to fraud and reduced
costs over time. We’re grateful for SITA’s willingness, working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), to
develop a proof of concept to leverage cutting-edge innovation to
the benefit of our entire sector.”

Having a proven example
of integrating offline verification capabilities has enabled the
ICAO Air Navigation Commission to issue a recommendation to move
forward with developing an international standard for EPLs.

In
March 2022, the ICAO Council will consider adopting a new
international standard that will pave the way for EPLs to become
valid licenses, with offline verification systems in place by the
end of 2022, citing SITA’s solution as an example.

SITA’s
contribution represents one more step towards streamlining the
multi-stakeholder processes behind personnel license issuing and
verification, while preventing possible fraud and preserving
sensitive identity information from privacy concerns.

The COVID19
pandemic has demonstrated a stronger need than ever for
digitalization, as office closures meant civil aviation
authorities were unable to issue or renew paper-based pilot
licenses.

Whereas issuing a digital license takes a few days,
paper-based licenses may take several weeks, incurring significant
costs for operators and public administrations. And the only
option for additional verifications of a paper-based license is
contacting the issuing Authority, which can lead to operational
disruptions and possible flight delays.

However,
centralized databases with sensitive information are proven to be
vulnerable to breaches and liabilities, and a central data
management system is not well-suited to the needs of the complex
ecosystem of civil aviation authorities, involving different
states and organizations. A blockchain-based solution which
eliminates the need for a centralized database and enables offline
verification is ideal.

SITA’s solution to bring offline
verification capabilities to an EPL system is built based on the
Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) model, using decentralized identity
technology which provides users control over their personal data,
allowing them to share a trusted credential for verification
without revealing personal information.

First, the issuing civil aviation
authority creates a signed credential gathering information about
a pilot license, and issues it to a pilot. The pilot then accepts,
stores, and presents a verifiable credential representing the
license. The credentials are managed in a digital wallet, in the
form of a mobile application which integrates seamlessly with the
existing civil aviation authority app. With another mobile
application, any inspector can then request, receive, and verify
pilot’s licenses by exchanging the credential, with the option to
transfer the credential offline using media such as a QR code.

This system provides trustworthy license verification
without the time-consuming process of verifying civil aviation
authorities’ files by contacting their offices for extra checks.

Pilots meanwhile no longer have to worry about losing, misplacing,
or damaging physical credentials and benefit from the confidence
that their personal data is kept private.

The system will also
lead to cost efficiencies over time: while it has been designed
for use by pilots on international flights, civil aviation
authorities will equally be able to leverage their EPL systems for
all licensed personnel, maximizing their investment.

Sébastien Fabre, CEO,
SITA for Aircraft, said, “Our collaboration with ICAO on providing
offline verification capabilities to EPLs is the latest example of
SITA taking advantage of cutting-edge technology to bring greater
efficiency to the air transport industry. With its ability to
streamline complex multi-stakeholder processes in a secure way, blockchain technology is perfectly adapted to the industry’s
needs. We have explored its benefits in the past with
industry-first initiatives such as the MRO Blockchain Alliance,
and our current partnership with ICAO allows us to apply our
expertise on decentralized identity technology to support
industry-wide change.”

The collaboration on EPLs is part of
a new 5-year agreement between ICAO and SITA aimed at
supporting the global aviation community through innovations in
aviation safety, air navigation capacity and efficiency, and
aviation training.


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