'I get to see the sun every day': Glasgow pilot living his dream after becoming first in Europe to qualify while HIV positive

A Glasgow-based pilot who became the first in Europe to qualify commercially while HIV positive has shared his story in a new documentary.

James Bushe, 33, wants to raise awareness about HIV and encourage others with the condition to chase their dreams.

He wanted to be a pilot for as long as he can remember and gained his private license at just 17 years old.

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But when he later tried to begin commercial training in 2017, he failed the medical exam because of a diagnosis of HIV three years earlier.

James Bushe now works as a pilot for LoganairJames Bushe now works as a pilot for Loganair
James Bushe now works as a pilot for Loganair

At the time the rules allowed qualified pilots who were diagnosed with HIV to continue flying, but those who already knew they were HIV positive were not allowed to begin training.

Mr Bushe was “devastated”, but with the support of a number of charities he successfully got the rule overturned and was able to qualify as a pilot in January last year.

He is now based in Glasgow, where he works for Loganair.

Soon after realising his dreams, Mr Bushe decided to make his story public in a bid to encourage others with HIV also facing discrimination and stigma.

A new documentary, The Tyranny of Petty Things, directed by Cameron Nicoll, will share this story.

Mr Bushe said the more open he has been about his diagnosis, the more he has realised there was a gap in people’s knowledge about HIV.

“The more I disclosed it I realised … the vast majority of people weren't aware that a person living with HIV today on successful treatments can't pass that virus on to others,” he said.

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"That was my reason for wanting to come out.”

He added: “I want to get that message out there that HIV has changed, that a person who is on medication, who is undetectable, can't transmit the virus to other people.

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“If you are somebody living with HIV who is facing a discriminatory barrier because of your status, here is a real life example of what you can do to make that change happen and break that barrier down.

“You can do it and you can win.”

The rules against HIV positive people qualifying as pilots were outdated, said Mr Bushe.

“Aviation is a safety critical industry and we have to put safety first,” he said.

"In this case it was an approach that was overly cautious, and it was based on the science and the evidence and understanding that the aviation industry had from the ‘90s and early 2000s, when we didn't have access to essential treatments, and we couldn't with any level of certainty say that a person living with HIV wasn't going to pose a risk.

“Now we can. It was about pushing the authorities to review those rules and bring them up to date.”

Mr Bushe is now living his childhood dream and has found it lives up to his expectations.

When he gets up in the morning, he thinks about whether he is “flying today”, he said, not whether he is going to work.

“It doesn't feel like a job, it never feels like work,” he said.

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“And you feel part of a very privileged few that are able to see the sunshine every day.”

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