Lifestyle

I was refused a pilot licence because I’m living with HIV – so I did something about it


This discrimination was blatant, and needed to be challenged (Picture: Matt Spike)

I was the kid who always fought for the window seat, never failed to talk his way into the flight deck, spent every penny I earned on flying lessons and dreamed of a career in the sky.

In April 2017, that dream – and my life – was shattered when I was told by doctors that I’d never be able to get the green light needed to fly a commercial airliner.

Why? Because I am HIV positive.

Even as I write this and think back to that day, my heart sinks. It just didn’t make any sense. I was fit and healthy, on successful treatment and posed no risk to flight safety.

Unfortunately, the Civil Aviation Authorities across Europe disagreed.

The rules stated that a pilot who held a license, and who subsequently became HIV positive, could continue to fly, but a HIV positive person who wished to become a commercial pilot was not able to get the medical sign off required in order to begin training.

Pilots living with HIV are limited to flying as part of a multi-person crew, but the limitation that allowed them to continue to fly couldn’t be applied to people seeking their first pilot medical check, who didn’t already hold a license.

It was a catch-22. Without the medical, I couldn’t train to get a license, yet without the license, I was unable to obtain that special kind of medical certificate that would allow me to train.

This discrimination was blatant and needed to be challenged.

I gathered evidence from medical experts across the UK to prove that I was fit to fly (Picture: Matt Spike)

I gathered evidence from medical experts across the UK to prove that I was fit to fly. I also identified a provision within the European regulations that would allow the UK CAA to deviate from the rules.

I took this research to the charity HIV Scotland and together we began a political and media campaign that would set the wheels in motion for change.

My MP Patrick Grady raised the issue at transport questions in Westminster and my MSP Bob Doris took the issue to Nicola Sturgeon at First Ministers questions. She then urged the CAA to take action and update their rules.

Meanwhile, tweeting under the pseudonym of @PilotAnthonyGLA and interviewing anonymously with BuzzFeed and the BBC, we raised the issue in mainstream media.

The medical evidence, political pressure and media attention combined was enough to drive a change at the UK CAA and in January 2018, they announced a U-turn.

A person living with HIV can now get the medical they need to train as a commercial pilot.

We had fought and we had won.

At 6am on Saturday 11 January 2020, the LM470 from Glasgow to Stornaway was my very first flight as a fully-qualified first officer for Scotland’s Airline, Loganair.

We dodged thunderstorms, battled 60mph winds and driving rain, but it’s all in a day’s work in the Outer Hebrides and it was a day’s work I will never forget.

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.

HIV is just one small part of who I am and it did not stop me (Picture: Matt Spike)

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.

The journey isn’t over yet, though.

Regulations across Europe with regard to HIV and flying are currently under review and I am determined that 2020 becomes the year that anyone across the continent living with HIV who wants to become a pilot, like me, can make that dream come true.

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