A MAN at the centre of a high-profile and long running battle to be the first HIV-positive person to train as a commercial pilot has spoken of his joy after flying his first route at the weekend.

James Bushe, previously only known by his Twitter account ‘Pilot Anthony’, also reveals his identity for the first time today as he said he wants to encourage others to fight HIV discrimination and help end stigmas around the virus.

Loganair pilot Mr Bushe, 31, finally achieved his childhood dream of becoming a professional pilot on Saturday when he flew from Stornoway to Benbecula.

“It was fantastic, and quite surreal,” he said. “I am proud, totally overwhelmed and so grateful to Loganair.”

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He will now be flying routinely on Loganair’s services, including to Cardiff, Newquay and Dusseldorf in Germany.

Mr Bushe learned to fly small aircraft aged 15, before he could drive a car. However, his ambition to pursue a career in aviation was threatened when he was diagnosed with HIV five years ago.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which controls airline pilot licences in the UK, told Mr Bushe that he could not train as a pilot unless he obtained a Class 1 medical certificate with an addition called an Operational Multi-crew Limitation (OML).

In a bizarre Catch 22, however, the only way to obtain such accreditation was to already have a commercial flying licence.

The effect was to block anyone with HIV from entering the profession, making aviation the only occupation outside of the armed forces that discriminated against HIV positive people in this way.

Similar restrictions also apply to pilots with diabetes, who are amputees, or who have had an organ transplant. The rules are set by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA).

Mr Bushe said: “Some of the early studies in the ‘90s suggested that there was some neuro-cognitive impairment, and it was for that reason that the CAA said there has to be this limitation.

“It’s a relatively recent development, from the turn of the century, that people who were already pilots were allowed to continue flying with HIV.

“Those early studies have since been superseded and there’s a lot more data now to suggest that that isn’t the case.”

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Mr Bushe’s case spurred HIV Scotland to campaign for the CAA to change the rules in the UK, and in January 2018 it finally updated its medical policy.

With the necessary medical certificate under his belt, Mr Bushe commenced an18-month training programme which he completed last week to enable him to fly Loganair’s Embraer 145 regional jets as a co-pilot.

Moves are now underway to persuade EASA to change its rules.

Mr Bushe, who is originally from Stoke-on-Trent, said he wanted to go public now to highlight to anyone currently considering a career in aviation who is HIV positive that it is no longer a barrier to becoming a pilot.

He added that he also wants to encourage others living with the virus to challenge discrimination regardless of their occupation.

“The biggest thing for me is to challenge the stigma that still exists around HIV,” he said. “I want to get the message out there that someone living with HIV, on successful treatment, cannot pass that virus on and can live a normal, happy, healthy life just the same as anyone who is HIV negative.”

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Nathan Sparling, chief executive of HIV Scotland, said: “We are proud to have led the campaign with James to ensure that people living with HIV can train as pilots. Not only is this a great moment for James, but it’s also a landmark moment for the wider HIV movement.

“The campaign overcame institutionalised discrimination, but it also showed that people living with HIV should be valued for their skills and not excluded for their status.”

Loganair chief executive, Jonathan Hinkles, said: “Before James completed his training we had 270 excellent pilots. We now have 271. HIV is not a bar to employment in other industries and there is no reason why it should be so in aviation.”

Dr Ewan Hutchison, head of Medical Assessment at the CAA, said: “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.

“We are providing medical expertise to support the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) with the commissioning of a review of recent research relating to HIV. The findings from this review are likely to be published within the next few months.

“We expect that this may result in the removal of some restrictions related to the medical certificates of commercial pilots who are living with HIV.”