A man at the centre of a long-running battle to become the first HIV-positive person to train as a commercial pilot started full-time flying with Loganair today.
Previously anonymous under the Twitter pseudonym of ‘Pilot Anthony’, he today revealed his identity as James Bushe, who learned to fly small aircraft at the age of 15 – before he could drive a car.
He has been flying alongside Loganair training captains since November and has now completed his training to qualify to fly the airline’s Embraer 145 regional jets from Glasgow airport.
Bushe (31) had originally been denied the chance to take up a training position as an airline pilot because of his HIV status.
The Civil Aviation Authority said it was bound to follow the European Aviation Safety Authority, 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 being an airline pilot was the only profession outside the armed services that barred HIV-positive people.
Bushe 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.
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 him the medical certificate he needed.
This led to the start of an 18-month training programme, completed last week, to enable Bushe to fly as a co-pilot.
Moves are now underway to convince the European regulatory body to change its regulations on HIV positive people wishing to train as airline pilots.
Bushe – originally from Stoke-on-Trent – 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.
“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.”
He 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.”
The CAA announced the change in medical policy enabling prospective pilots with HIV to commence training in January 2018.
CAA head of medical assessment Dr Ewan Hutchison said: “We are very pleased to see James starting his career, having now finished his commercial pilot training.
“He has worked hard to raise awareness of the challenges faced by aspiring pilots living with HIV. For a number of years we have promoted changes at an international level to the current rules affecting pilots with certain medical conditions, including HIV.
“We are providing medical expertise to support the European Aviation Safety Agency with the commissioning of a review of recent research relating to HIV.
“The findings from this review are likely to be published within the next few months.
“We expect that this may result in the removal of some restrictions related to the medical certificates of commercial pilots who are living with HIV.”
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.”
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