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Man makes history as first newly-qualified pilot in Europe living with HIV

James Bushe opened up about his HIV status to challenge the stigma around the virus

2020-01-13

Words: Steve Brown

A man has made history by becoming the first newly-qualified pilot in Europe living with HIV.

James Bushe – who was diagnosed with HIV five years ago – previously remained anonymous and used a pseudonym on Twitter to write about his struggles to become a pilot after rules prevented him from training as he couldn’t get a medical certificate.

However, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) overturned the ruling and Bushe – who has been flying with Loganair training captains since November – decided to go public to challenge the stigma around people living with HIV, the BBC reported.

The 31-year-old pilot plans to now complete his training to qualify to regularly fly the airlines jets from its base at Glasgow Airport which would make his the first newly-qualified pilot in Europe living with HIV.

Previously, the CAA regulations said that pilots who were already qualified could continue to fly if they contracted HIV, however, in a ‘catch 22’ situation, a HIV-positive person couldn’t get the accreditation needed to start the training to become a pilot.

James explained: "The reason is that the CAA considered there was a risk of that HIV positive person becoming incapacitated during the flight, potentially.

“That rule would also have covered other conditions, like diabetes. The evidence for this was studies done in the early 90s.

“Someone that is on successful treatment and living with HIV now, is undetectable. They can't pass that virus on to others and they pose no risk to themselves or anyone around them. It didn't make any sense. I wanted to challenge it."

Bushe took the fight to the CAA and won the battle where they changed the rules stopping refusing to grant medical licences to people with HIV.

Instead, HIV-positive people will be eligible to receive a certificate that allows them to fly but restricts them to multi-pilot operations.

Bushe said he decision to reveal his HIV status was tough but said he wanted to remove the stigma surrounding the virus.

"I'm doing this as me today because I want to challenge that stigma," he said.

"It's not just about me, it's about anybody who is living with HIV who wants to become a pilot. I want to get the message out there that they can do.

"My message to anyone living with HIV who is facing discrimination is to challenge it and you can win.

“HIV should be no barrier to anybody pursuing whatever their dreams are and becoming whatever they want to be.”