A British pilot with HIV has become the first to qualify as a commercial pilot and join an airline after battling to change the regulations governing the issue of a class 1 medical.
James Bushe had always wanted to be an airline pilot, and after leaving university in 2009 he worked as a manager in the restaurant trade to earn the money to finance his training. In 2017 he was offered a place on an easyJet pilot training scheme, but at this point he was told that due to EASA regulations, the fact that he is HIV positive meant that he could not be issued with the class 1 medical certificate necessary to hold a professional pilot licence.
Further research uncovered the fact that if he was already a qualified professional pilot, who had then been diagnosed with HIV, he would be allowed to continue flying as part of a two-crew operation – known as an OML (Operational Multi pilot Limitation) restriction.
However, the EASA rules did not allow a person with HIV to be issued with an initial class 1 medical, effectively barring that person from becoming a professional pilot.
James considered this to be discriminatory and began a campaign to get the rules changed which drew in his MP Patrick Grady, who raised the issue in the House of Commons and MSP Bob Doris who took the issue to Nicola Sturgeon at First Ministers questions.
Meanwhile, he began a social media campaign under the pseudonym @PilotAnthonyGLA and in the mainstream media he interviewed anonymously with the BBC amongst others.
The pressure on the CAA paid-off and in January 2018, the CAA’s chief medical officer, Dr Sally Evans, issued a statement to Authorised Medical Examiners (AMEs).
In part, the statement read:
“You may be aware, there has been a lot of recent discussion in the media and in response to questions from MPs and MSPs about the issue of initial medical certificates with an OML, particularly in relation to applicants living with HIV. As a result, the UK CAA has taken the decision to resume issuing initial Class 1 medical certificates with an OML limitation (where required for the specific medical condition/medication). This will happen with immediate effect. An OML may only be added to a certificate by a medical assessor and so all initial applicants who do not meet the requirements for unrestricted Class 1 medical certification but do meet the requirements for a Class 1 medical certificate with an OML will need to be referred to CAA Medical, as is the case already for existing commercial (CPL, MPL and ATPL) licence holders […] applicants who have previously been refused an initial Class 1 may approach any AME for advice. In this circumstance they should be advised to contact the AeMC to whom they originally applied”.
In July 2018 James began full-time ATPL ground school with CAE, and by February 2019 he had achieved 14 first-time passes with an average pass rate of 89%. He then completed Commercial Pilot, Multi Engine and Instrument Rating training at Bartolini Air in Poland, before going to VA Airline Training in Cambridge for Airline Pilot Standard, Multi Crew Co-operation (APS MCC) training in June/July 2019.
It was in September 2019 that James was accepted by regional airline Loganair, undertaking type-rating training on the Embraer E145 regional jet and on the 11th January 2020, he flew on LM470 from Glasgow to Stornaway as his first flight as a fully-qualified First Officer.
Since that flight, James has been interviewed extensively for TV, radio and print media. In an ‘opinion’ piece for Metro magazine, James wrote: “I’m still smiling from ear-to-ear and feel proud and privileged not only to realise a boyhood dream, but to have made it possible for many others, to realise theirs, too. But this isn’t just about me. It’s about breaking down the stigma that is still associated with everyone that lives with HIV. It’s about provoking a conversation, busting the myths and getting the message out to everyone that HIV has changed.
“In 2020, a person living with HIV on successful treatment, has a normal life expectancy and cannot pass that virus on to others. HIV is just one small part of who I am and it did not stop me, and should not stop any other person living with HIV from doing whatever and becoming whomever, they wish to be”.
NAT (National AIDS Trust), leading UK charity say that the CAA have also appealed to EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) so that further progressive rulemaking activity can occur and a permanent change to the regulations will mean there are no barriers for those living with HIV to work as commercial pilots.
Deborah Gold, chief executive of NAT said: “We welcome both the temporary measures the CAA have put in place to allow pilots living with HIV to fly, and we look forward to a full update to regulations from EASA at European level, meaning no outdated and unfair barriers remain. Of course there ought to be nothing standing in the way for someone living with HIV who wants a career as a pilot. We congratulate the pilot who has brought this issue to the foreground and demanded change.”