In 2017, James Bushe was offered a place on an airline's training programme, but he was refused the medical certificate that was needed to gain a commercial license because he was living with HIV. Following a campaign, co-led by James and HIV Scotland, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) went against the regulations set by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) and granted James a license, as well as changing the regulations here to ensure that nobody living with HIV would be denied a license on the basis of their status again. In Janaury 2020 following the CAA’s overturning of the policy, James flew a commercial flight from Glasgow to Stornoway, having become a pilot for Scottish airline Loganair. James is said to have become the first HIV-positive person to acquire a commercial pilot's licence and fly a commercial plane in Europe.

Why did James’ HIV status stop him in the first place?

In order to train to become a pilot, you need to be granted a medical certificate. As James was living with HIV – the rules state that he needs a Multi-Crew Limitation on any medical. This meant he was prevented from training, due to a technicality in the rules of the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) implemented in the UK by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

So what changed?

James contacted HIV Scotland and asked us to help him challenge this discrimination. We worked to highlight the issue in the press, working with Patrick Strudwick at Buzzfeed. We also got to grips with aviation policy to understand who we had to influence and what we needed to change.  The campaign, co-led with James, received a lot of support and meant that, in January 2018, the CAA would go against the EASA and grant people with Multi-Crew Limitations a medical to enable them to train as Commercial Airline Pilots.

How did the campaign progress?

Working with key partners across the sector, we took a human rights approach to change the regulations which affected James. Working with the National Gay Pilots Association, and the British HIV Association, we carried out research into aviation policy and medical evidence which allowed us to build a case for change. The issue was raised in both the Scottish and UK Parliaments, receiving support from the First Minister. The Secretary of State for Transport announced the change in the House of Commons in response to a question from Patrick Grady MP.

So what’s next?

Following the ruling by the CAA, the EASA has been prompted to review their own regulations and will hopefully be bringing them up to a modern-day standard. Also, here in Scotland, anyone that wants to train to become a pilot can do so regardless of their HIV status. January 2020 saw James make his first commercial flight, and consequently make history.

The CAA released a statement regarding the completion of Bushe’s pilot training, praising him for raising 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,” said Dr Ewan Hutchison, head of medical assessment at the CAA.

Dr Hutchison said the organisation is “providing medical expertise” to support the EASA “with the commissioning of a review of recent research relating to HIV”.

What does this mean for people living with HIV?

This campaign goes beyond James and the industry in which he works. It’s symbolic of what people living with HIV can achieve in the face of institutional discrimination and goes to show that standing up to unjust rules and regulations can and often does achieve change. Unfortunately, 25% of countries in the world have entry requirements that prevent people living with HIV from freely entering. This can prevent some work opportunities for pilots, and we hope that a wider campaign will change things for the better.

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