in Aerospace

Europe’s first newly qualified HIV-positive airline pilot starts full-time flying

Posted 13 January 2020 · Add Comment

A man at the centre of a high-profile and long running battle to be the first HIV-positive person to train as a commercial pilot today began full-time flying as a fully-fledged member of the team at Scotland's airline, Loganair.

Courtesy Loganair

Previously anonymous under the Twitter pseudonym of 'Pilot Anthony', he today revealed that he is James Bushe, who learned to fly small aircraft at the age of 15 - before he could drive a car.

James (above) has been flying alongside Loganair training captains since November, but he has now completed his training to qualify to regularly fly the airline’s Embraer 145 Regional Jets from its headquarters base at Glasgow Airport.

Standing in front of a tartan-tailed Loganair jet, James - originally from Stoke-on-Trent - said: "I am proud, totally overwhelmed and so grateful to Loganair. But this is not just about me - it's about anyone living with HIV who can now become a pilot.

"My hope now is that it triggers action not just in the UK but in the rest of Europe. Anyone who has felt restricted by the condition, who is in my situation, can now follow their dreams."

Originally, James (31) had been denied the chance to take up a training position as an airline pilot because of his HIV status.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which controls airline pilot licences in the UK, told James that it was bound to follow the rules laid down by the European regulator, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), which ruled that for people living with HIV to become airline pilots, they had to have a Class 1 medical certificate with an addition called an Operational Multi-crew Limitation (OML).

Other people who need an OML include people with diabetes, those who have an organ transplant and those who are amputees.

However the 'Catch 22' situation was that the only way to obtain that accreditation would be to already have a commercial flying licence that allowed training as a co-pilot alongside a training captain – blocking anyone already with HIV from entering the profession. This effectively meant that airline piloting was the only profession outside the armed services that barred HIV-positive people.

James was diagnosed with HIV five years ago, but while undergoing successful treatment he was shocked to be told his diagnosis would stand in the way of him becoming a commercial pilot.

James said: "The situation was not only discriminatory, but utterly devastating to someone whose only wish since childhood was to become an airline pilot. Today someone who is HIV-positive and on successful treatment poses no risk to flight safety and should be treated no differently to a person who is not living with the condition.”

A campaign led by the charity HIV Scotland and supported by other organisations and senior politicians across the country led to the CAA changing the rules in the UK and granting James the medical certificate he needed to fulfil his ambitions.  This led to the start of an 18-month training programme, completed only last week, to enable James to fly Loganair's Embraer 145 regional jets as a co-pilot from today.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: "Before James completed his training we had 270 excellent pilots.  We now have 271.  HIV is not a bar to employment in other industries and there is no reason why it should be so in aviation."

Nathan Sparling, chief executive of HIV Scotland, said: “We are proud to have led the campaign with James to ensure that people living with HIV can train as pilots. Not only is this a great moment for James, but it’s also a landmark moment for the wider HIV movement. The campaign overcame institutionalised discrimination, but it also showed that people living with HIV should be valued for their skills and not excluded for their status.”

James added: "I've decided to forgo my anonymity because I believe it is important that this point is emphasised to everyone - there is no reason in the year 2020 why a person who is HIV-positive should face barriers in any profession.”

"Living with this condition doesn't threaten my life or my health at all, and I cannot pass HIV on to others. I want to put that out there to the millions of people who are living with the same fear and stigma that I was once living with."

Moves are now underway to convince EASA, which is the governing body responsible for medical standards, to undertake the necessary rulemaking activity and associated research with a view to a permanent change to its current regulations on HIV positive people wishing to train as airline pilots.


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