- James Bushe has made aviation history by being the first person with HIV to obtain a pilot license and fly a commercial plane.
- With the help of HIV Scotland, he overturned the Civil Aviation Authority’s stance on not allowing people with HIV who wish to pursue a career as a pilot to obtain a license, as reported by BuzzFeed.
- He has since gone through demanding training required to get a commercial license and has landed a pilot job with Scottish carrier Loganair.
- Bushe told Insider: “For me, it was just that I knew the regulations were wrong, I knew that the position was discriminatory and that it needed to be challenged.”
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Bushe was the first person with HIV to obtain a commercial pilot license and fly a commercial route after battling with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) since 2017.
Speaking to Insider about the historical significance of this flight, Bushe said: “I didn’t do it with that in mind. For me, it was just that I knew the regulations were wrong, I knew that the position was discriminatory and that it needed to be challenged.
“After it had happened, of course I recognized that this could potentially be a wider benefit to people in my position or similar position, but the intention was to always remove the discriminatory barrier in principle.”
Revealing to Buzzfeed he had been blocked from accepting a place on easyJet’s pilot training scheme in 2017 due to the CAA’s stance on candidates with HIV, Bushe had a discriminatory ban against new pilots with HIV overturned.
Bound by the rules of the European regulator (EASA), he told Insider the UK CAA’s position is that someone living with HIV poses a slight risk to flight safety in that they may become incapacitated.
Bushe argues the evidence the CAA is using for this stance is outdated.
The decision was based on studies that were done in the early 1990s and things have changed a lot since then.
He explained to Insider: “On that basis of what the CAA said, if you were a pilot that subsequently develops HIV you could continue to fly but with the limitation on your medical that it had to be with another pilot at all times. My argument to them was, ‘OK if that’s the case, that’s fine. Give me that medical with that limitation.’ They said ‘no, we can only give that medical with that limitation to people that are already flying.'”
Bushe continued: “In essence, what it meant was, if I was already a qualified pilot who developed HIV I would’ve been fine. But because I was not qualified, but was living with HIV, they wouldn’t have given me the medical with that limitation.
“That position created the discrimination. You’ve got one set of people that they’ve said yes to and another they’ve said no – so that was the crux of the campaign to me. First of all to challenge the discriminatory aspect of aviation and then secondly, try and gather the evidence from medical experts across the UK to say that actually, there is no risk of incapacitation.
“That second bit, we still haven’t got there yet. The CAA eventually – because of the political pressure and because of the media attention that we gathered in late 2017 – that’s when they decided to change their approach to giving people the medical with the limitation.
“So they actually said, ‘OK you don’t need a license now, we can give you the medical straight away with that limitation on it.’ But ultimately that was the barrier, the barrier was a catch 22. If you had a license you could get the medical with the limitation, however, to get a license the first stage any pilot has to go through is pass that medical.”
The UK CAA went against the European regulator in January 2018, and declared it did not have an issue with someone having this limitation on their medical.
After campaigning with the charity HIV Scotland to change aviation regulation, completing rigorous training to obtain his license, and getting a job with Scottish carrier Loganair, Bushe was well on his way to achieving his childhood dream.
When Bushe first spoke about the discrimination a few years ago, he campaigned under a pseudonym, but has now waived his anonymity and come forward as being the force behind the “Pilot Anthony” Twitter account.
Telling Insider about his decision to come forward as himself, Bushe said: “It’s something that I’ve been wrestling with in my own mind for the past 12 months actually.
“I think anyone that lives with HIV goes through a journey of acceptance with themselves when they are diagnosed, and it was only when I really got to that point of accepting myself that I then realized that actually if I were to continue to tell the story as ‘Pilot Anthony,’ all I am doing is perpetuating the stigma of people living with HIV.
“If I truly believe that status should be no barrier to any parts of life – if I was living with diabetes or if I was living with any other chronic condition – I wouldn’t do it anonymously. So to speak of the story now, the only way it made sense to me was being true as myself. I think the only way we can tackle the stigma that is associated with people living with HIV is to have open and honest conversations about it in day to day life. We can only do that when people are open about their status.”
As for his colleagues at Loganair, they have shown immense support to Bushe.
Company employees were told internally last Friday of his identity.
He told Insider: “Everyone has been incredible really. I wouldn’t have expected anything different. Loganair is a relatively small airline and it’s a family environment, everyone genuinely wants to look after one another.”
Now the biggest hurdle has been jumped, Bushe said: “The next step is to push the European regulator to revise their guidance on HIV completely to remove that limitation, to then allow people living with HIV to openly do any job in aviation because as it stands, what this limitation does it still prevents you from doing certain roles.
“For example, if you’re HIV positive you can’t fly a helicopter for a living, so there’s still a bit of work to do. However, the UK CAA are now on board with the process. I’m certainly going to be pushing for that change to happen imminently.”