HIV-positive man makes history as first-ever in Europe to take to the air as a pilot

HIV-positive commercial pilot.

A HIV-positive man has said he is “proud and overwhelmed” after becoming the first-ever person in Europe with HIV to become a commercial air pilot.

James Bushe, 31, wanted to be a pilot since he was a child. He began learning to fly at just 15 years old, and by the age of 17 he had his private pilot’s license – before he could even drive a car.

Five years ago, Bushe was diagnosed with HIV. In 2017, when he was offered a place on an airline’s training programme, but he was denied the medical certificate needed to obtain his commercial license because of his diagnosis.

At the time, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was bound by rules from the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), which said that a medical certificate could not be granted to someone who was HIV-positive.

Bushe decided to fight his case, with the help of HIV Scotland, and document it anonymously on Twitter under the pseudonym “Pilot Anthony”. Two years on, he has won his case and revealed his identity, officially able to fly from Monday, January 13.

He has been training with the airline Loganair, flying alongside training captains since November 2019, but is now qualified to fly Embraer 145 Regional Jets from the airline’s base at Glasgow Airport.

According to the BBC, the CAA has changed its rules but will only allow HIV-positive people to fly in multi-pilot operations, as it said that is as far as it can go before the EASA reforms its own regulations.

HIV-positive commercial pilot.

James Bushe was diagnosed with HIV five years ago. (Loganair)

Bushe 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.”

He continued: “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.”

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles added: “HIV is not a bar to employment in other industries and there is no reason why it should be so in aviation.”

Bushe that former rugby player Gareth Thomas, who revealed his HIV-positive status in 2019, was his inspiration was his inspiration to “come out”.

Nathan Sparling, chief executive oh HIV Scotland, says that Bushe’s landmark win shows that whatever your status, you can follow your dreams.

“I extend my personal congratulations to James, thank him for bringing this issue into the public eye, and commend him for doing his part in fighting HIV-related stigma by waiving his anonymity,” he said.

“Without James’ determination to pursue his goals these unjust rules would still be in place, and this campaign shows that only by taking on unjust regulations and demanding change can we ever hope to change the world in which we live.”