This is James' Story

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

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. 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 Minister's questions. She then urged the CAA to take action and update its rules.

The medical evidence, political pressure and media attention combined were 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.

What's next?

When i'm not in the air, I am really enjoying working together with colleagues from around the airline on our Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

The forum champions internal initiatives on many themes and supports external engagements on our three current focus areas.

Playing a role in the forum to ensure others aren't disadvantaged in their aspirations for any reason, that they're treated with fairness and respect, and helping to ensure that flying's for all, is really rewarding.