For Loganair First Officer James Bushe, becoming an airline pilot was always a childhood dream.
“My brother was in the RAF and my room was always plastered with aeroplane paraphernalia. I was always the kid that wanted the window seat, would always wangle my way into the flight deck pre-9/11 and enjoyed the airport experience more than the holiday!” James told Confessions of a Trolley Dolly recently when he agreed to have a chat with me.
James followed his dream and, funded out of his own pocket, started flying when he was 15 years old.
“My first job was on a go-karting circuit in my hometown of Stoke-On-Trent and three weeks work would allow me to save enough money to fund a flying lesson. I wasn’t from a wealthy background, so integrated training was never an option.”
His hard work paid off and James gained his Private Pilots Licence (PPL) when he was just 18.
“In the early days for me it was about flying because what better way to prove to an airline a passion for flying than actually doing it, and through this searching for opportunities for sponsored programs to make the jump into commercial aviation. Then the financial crisis of 2007-2009 happened, so those opportunities were few and far between.”
So James went off to University in Durham to study Law as a backup plan.
“If I couldn’t become a pilot I wanted to make sure I could earn enough money to continue to fly. I knew early on that law wasn’t for me, and having grown up in pubs, I followed in my parents footsteps and spent seven years in the trade. That allowed me to continue to fly, continue to apply for sponsorship programs and continue to save for the modular route of CPL MEIR (Commercial Pilot License with Multi-Engine Instrument Rating); the one I ultimately took.”
But there was another problem standing in the way of James landing his dream job, his HIV diagnosis. Diagnosed in 2015, James was now on effective treatment and the virus caused him no issues health wise. However, regulations around a person living with HIV becoming an airline pilot meant that it would be impossible to gain his commercial licence.
In 2017 James had applied to join easyJet and one of their sponsored pilot training programmes. At the time the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) interpretation of European regulations meant that if a qualified pilot contracted HIV they could continue to fly subject to medical fitness.
However, a person living with HIV would be unable to obtain the accreditation needed to be able to start the training to join the profession.
“It didn’t make any sense. I wanted to challenge it.” James said at the time.
And challenge it he did. Behind the scenes James began to put a case together to oppose the CAA’s ruling. To gain attention of his plight and tell his story, he also set up a social media account under the pseudonym ‘Pilot Anthony.’
Finally, after a nine month battle with the CAA the ruling was overturned and James set off to Poland to complete his CPL MEIR.
He was then able to begin applying for jobs. Scottish carrier Loganair offered him one and after some further training James became a First Officer with the airline.
His portrayal as ‘Pilot Anthony’ had gained James many loyal followers, people who were genuinely interested in his story. James now knew it was time to show the world the real face behind the pseudonym.
“The story of how I overturned the rules that had previously prevented HIV+ individuals from entering the profession had been well publicised. I knew that this wasn’t the end of the story.”
“The good news, and best news was ‘Pilot Anthony’ landing their dream job. I wanted to tell that story. But to do so as ‘Pilot Anthony’ would only have served to perpetuate the stigma that still surrounds those of us that live with the virus.”
“Why should it have been that I was ashamed to have shared that news, as me? I wanted to get the message out there that there was no shame in being HIV+, that it should not stop you from realising your dreams, and that now, you can even become an airline pilot.”
“I wanted to share a battle-plan with anyone else facing discrimination in any other walk of life because of their status, and in revealing my own identity and sharing the positive response to that, give others the confidence to do the same so that we can talk openly about HIV, normalise is, and eradicate the stigma once and for all!”
And so, in January 2020, James Bushe revealed himself to be ‘Pilot Anthony’ to the world. He said the whole experience felt “liberating.”
“For me in the early days it was almost like James vs HIV. HIV was in control of me and in taking that final step of open disclosure, I had taken control of HIV – medically, personally, and professionally.”
Of course James was nervous about how others may react to the news. But the support he received was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“The support from family, friends and colleagues alike has been phenomenal. I’ve had very little negative feedback. I think people take their cue from you though. When I talk about my experience of living with HIV, and what the future holds, I want the message to be one of hope. I want people to be left with the knowledge that a person living with HIV, on successful treatment can live a normal life, and cannot pass the virus on to others. In doing that I always hope that it frames HIV in a “positive” way in peoples minds.”
And how did it feel knowing that he’d single-handedly changed a CAA regulation?
“On a personal level it has helped me significantly in processing my own diagnosis. HIV hasn’t won, I have! On a professional level I hope that it has given others the confidence to challenge any discriminatory or outdated regulation that they may face within or outside of the aviation industry and that they might use my campaign as blueprint to drive change of their own.”
James’ dream is now a reality and his hard work and determination has paid off.
“Every day, you get to see the sun! But the thing I love most about my job is the people.”
“Flying isn’t a job, its a vocation, a way of life. There’s something incredibly special about the connection that everyone in this industry shares, irrespective of the colour of their uniform or the number of bars on their shoulder. It’s one that amidst the pandemic in particular has brought us all closer, and made those bonds stronger.”
For now, James is loving life at Loganair although he hopes to one day leave the frequent inclement Scottish climate behind.
“Ten years from now I’d love to be in the left hand seat, operating somewhere warm and sunny, where there’s no coats, boots, jackets or jumpers in my wardrobe!”
Aside from flying the skies, James is also a HUGE advocate in raising awareness around HIV and shares his own personal journey via social media @bushepilot and his blog PlusPilot.
James is an absolute hero of the LGBTQ+ community. His grit in standing up against the CAA to follow his dream and his bravery when coming out from the ‘Pilot Anthony’ persona’ has shown to the world that HIV creates no barriers to realising your dreams.
If you’re concerned about HIV and would like more information then please check out the links below –
© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air.