Supporting the digital future of air travel facilitation

Updates from the 30th Public Key Directory (PKD) Board meeting

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With ICAO Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs) we can present identity data using devices like smartphones and the provision and verification of data remotely. They bring more efficient ways to present data as possibilities for checks to be undertaken in advance of travel and away from the border, helping to smoothing travel at the crossing points.

While the ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD) is now three decades old, it more essential than ever to assuring efficiency and security at borders and to ensuring the resilience of the global travel network. This was the focus of the PKD Board at their milestone 30th meeting, which convened in Willemstad, Curacao 8-9 November 2023.

The meeting provided a critical opportunity to discuss and chart the future of the system in the context of a rapidly evolving passenger travel landscape, not least as the international community recovers from the COVID-19 public health emergency and takes stock of the lessons learned.  More than 75 representatives of States and International Organizations participated across the three days of the event, which was co-hosted by the Ministries of Justice of the Netherlands and Curacao.

A warm welcome to Curacao

The meeting was formally opened by Curacao’s Ministers of Transport and Justice, Messrs. Charles Cooper and Shalten Hato, respectively. Both reflected on the importance of aviation for small island States and territories such as Curacao. In this regard, they emphasized the importance of aviation facilitation as a driver of economic development. Verification of international travel documents was a key activity in facilitation, they stressed, and the PKD therefore an important tool in the fight against identity fraud and document forgery as well as in efforts to smooth travel through digitization.

Mr. Shalten Hato, Minister of Justice of Curacao, opened the PKD Board meeting on 8 November 2023

The chairperson of the PKD Board for 2023, Mr. Mario Wiesen (Luxembourg) reflected on the success of the program in his opening words, noting the PKDs’s growth from 6 inaugural to 93 participants at the time of the meeting.

During the meeting, Mr. Wiesen was re-elected as Chairperson of the Board for 2024 while Mr. Cor de Jonge (Netherlands) was elected as the Vice-Chairperson for the same period.

Participants elected members from Australia, Canada, Cameroon, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and the USA as their proposals to the ICAO Council for membership of the PKD Board, which the Council subsequently endorsed. The representatives of these seven States join those from China, France, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, and Uganda as PKD Board members to take forward work on behalf of all participants in the coming 12-month period.

Members from Canada and Switzerland were elected to the PKD Executive Body, a smaller group of five that advises the Board based on comprehensive analyses and discussions throughout the year. They join members from Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

Steering the future – decisions taken

The current contract for the operation and maintenance of PKD technical services expires in 2026, necessitating the launch of a new Call for Tender for such servicesFollowing a presentation delivered by Mr. Erik Johnson, Chairperson of the PKD Contract Support Group, the meeting participants endorsed the tender documentation and approach fully, providing the critical go-ahead for the launch of the Call.

Reflecting on these developments and decisions, Mr. Wiesen expressed satisfaction with the important progress made. “The work done by the Contract Support Group to elaborate the tender documentation has been very impressive and I am very thankful to the experts from across the globe that helped.” He warned, however, that “this is only the beginning of the work on this matter. The extensive evaluation efforts are to come. I am looking forward to working with all members of the group and the PKD Board on this and all other matters.”

The participants also approved all financial accounts and documentation. Fees for participation in 2024 were agreed and set. Once again, the fees due from participants have decreased compared to previous years, . The continuing decrease in costs associated with usage of a system that is increasing in value through the years is testament to ICAO’s success in delivering efficiently and effectively in this project.

Meeting participants also took note of updates related to a variety of PKD programs and provided their advice and direction for next steps.

They took note of the status and current work being accomplished under the PKD Data Quality Coach initiative, a program that provides for mentoring of State authorities and stakeholders by an experienced PKD participant. After considering feedback provided by current coaches, they recommended work to assure alignment with capacity-building work being accomplished in related domains, including through ICAO’s Global Aviation Training section and through the Implementation and Capacity Building Working Group (ICBWG) under ICAO’s Technical Advisory Group on the Traveller Identification Program (TAG/TRIP).

The status of the PKD private sector pilot project – an initiative that explores a possible opening of data use to private sector entities with whom specific agreements have been made – was also presented and discussed during the meeting.

A community of practice – building capacities together

Throughout this 30th meeting, participants had the opportunity share their work and plans, provide updates on improvements in their issuance or verification infrastructure, and speak about advancements in their organizational approaches to PKD-related activities. Presentations were delivered on related work by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the New Technologies Working Group (NTWG) and the ICBWG.

In order to further offer opportunities for information sharing and capacity building, the PKD Board also organized a workshop on Electronic Machine Readable Travel Documents, Public Key Infrastructure and the use of the ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD) before the meeting, on 7 November 2023. Technical, administrative, and organizational topics were covered, providing a comprehensive overview of best practices around the usage of the PKD and public key certificates in electronic travel document verification.

Next meeting of the PKD Board

Reflecting on the meeting, Mr. de Jonge summarized the feelings of many in the community. “It was a pleasure to co-host the 30th Board meeting in Curacao,” he indicated. “It was wonderful to see so many PKD participants travel to this meeting, which is indicative of the vibrancy of the community and the eagerness of us all to meet, interact, share and learn as we emerge from the quieter years of the COVID-19 pandemic.” “It was an excellent meeting and we are grateful to the hosts for their facilitation,” noted Mr. Wiesen. “The decisions made and plans laid out set us up well for the years to come. Thirty meetings down and we continue to grow. The future is bright.”

The 31st PKD Board meeting will convene this year in Xi’an, China, following the Board’s decision to accept China’s generous offer to host the event.