UK pilots with HIV able to work unrestricted after 'landmark changes' in aviation guidance

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UK pilots with HIV will be able to work unrestricted after "landmark changes" were made to aviation guidance.

New rules, produced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), set out how HIV-positive pilots in the UK can work without restrictions.

Previously, those who disclosed they had HIV were automatically required to undergo cognitive testing to assess their mental abilities - a complex and expensive process.

However, the CAA's new guidance, developed with the support of HIV charities, says there is a much lower risk of infected pilots suffering conditions that could impair their ability to fly safely if they have a timely diagnosis and antiretroviral therapy.

The regulator has also launched a six-month amnesty to enable aviation workers with undisclosed HIV to correct their medical records without facing enforcement action.

The new directions and amnesty also apply to air traffic controllers.

The CAA's medical team will work with those who come forward to review their health status. Their employers will not be notified.

The change was first kickstarted by pilot and campaigner James Bushe, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2014.

In 2017 Mr Bushe was denied the chance to become an airline pilot because of his HIV-positive status. At the time, pilots who had already qualified and then contracted the virus were allowed to fly.

After starting a campaign to change the rules, the CAA altered the guidance in 2020 allowing Mr Bushe to qualify as a pilot, and he became the first HIV-positive commercial air pilot in Europe.

A 'world-first' for airline workers

The latest measures announced today are believed to be a world-first for aviation workers.

CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty said the UK will "continue to lead the way in supporting pilots living with HIV to fly safely and pursue their careers and dreams".

He went on: "Recent medical advances mean that if someone with HIV effectively manages their condition, they should be able to live a near-normal life.

"Our new guidance recognises this.

"I want to appeal personally to anyone who has previously not declared their HIV status to contact us within the next six months so we can reset this with you in total confidence."

Ian Green, chief executive of HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "These landmark changes, removing the final barriers to people living with HIV having a full career as a commercial pilot, reflect the huge progress we've made in the fight against HIV over the last 40 years and mark the UK as a global leader in HIV aviation policy.

"Outdated restrictions were holding pilots living with HIV back in their careers, but now the Civil Aviation Authority's policies and practices will reflect the reality of living with HIV today."

HIV 'has changed'

Mr Green said the changes will allow pilots to share that they are living with HIV "without any negative impact on their career".

This sends a message to the general public that HIV "has changed" and a diagnosis "doesn't have to stop anyone from fulfilling their dreams and goals as a commercial pilot or anything else", he added.

The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency show an estimated 107,000 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2020.

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