The UK's Civil Aviation Authority has changed its rules to allow people with HIV to become commercial airline pilots after BuzzFeed News revealed how a man from Glasgow had been denied the chance to take up a training position with EasyJet because of his HIV status.
Equality campaigners were celebrating the historic victory following the announcement of the rule change on Thursday morning by Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA. The move was confirmed in the House of Commons by transport secretary Chris Grayling.
Last month, BuzzFeed News told the story of a man, named as Anthony, who said he had been denied his childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot because of what he said was HIV discrimination by the aviation authorities.
Previously, the CAA had told Anthony that it was bound to follow the rules laid down by the European regulator, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), which meant that in order for people with HIV to become pilots they had to have a medical certificate with an addition called an "operational multi-crew limitation".
But the only way to obtain that would be to already have a commercial flying licence – blocking anyone already with HIV from entering the profession, and meaning that piloting was the only profession outside the armed services that barred HIV-positive people.
But when BuzzFeed News contacted EASA, the regulator insisted the CAA was in fact able to deviate from those rules.
Following the story, the CAA came under intense pressure to change the policy. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, warned that it could be in breach of equality legislation, and Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Commons transport select committee, wrote to the transport secretary about Anthony's case. He was also supported by HIV Scotland.
Anthony told BuzzFeed News on Thursday: "I am totally overwhelmed. I never expected this to happen so quickly. I'm grateful that it's happened and very conscious of the fact that it's not just me, it's anyone with HIV that can now become a pilot. It's monumental.
"It's a huge change and i just hope that it triggers action not just in the UK but in the rest of Europe. Anyone who has felt restricted by the condition, who's in my situation, can now follow their dreams."
He added: "It means that I can now focus on becoming a pilot. It was the last remaining barrier that has now been removed, so I'm going to start discussions as to how I can take up my place with EasyJet and start as soon as possible. This change means I can now realise my dreams."
On Twitter, he thanked the campaigners who had backed his case.
Nathan Sparling, head of policy and campaigning for HIV Scotland, told BuzzFeed News: "This is a massive win for people living with HIV who want to become pilots. It is because Anthony came forward with his story that the CAA is now taking a more sensible and realistic approach.
"We welcome the move, and look forward to working with everyone concerned to ensure that people living with HIV who want to become pilots can pursue their dreams."
In his statement announcing that people with HIV could now train as airline pilots, CAA chief executive Haines explained that the regulator has "made representations to EASA ... and asked them to undertake the necessary rulemaking activity and associated research without delay, that we hope will lead to a permanent change to the current regulations".
But in the meantime, he added, "the CAA will issue initial Class 1 Medical certificates with a restriction to multi-pilot operations to applicants wishing to become commercial pilots, subject to the applicants passing their Class 1 Medical assessment".
Here is the CAA's statement in full:
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is committed to being one of the most progressive aviation authorities in the world. We have often led aviation regulatory changes that have enabled pilots with medical conditions to keep flying, most recently in our ground-breaking work on insulin-treated diabetes. We have also been responsible for writing international guidelines on pilots living with HIV and have been promoting the need for changes to the current regulations regarding the restrictions applicable to pilots with certain medical conditions, including HIV.
In relation to HIV, we have made representations to EASA, which is the governing body responsible for medical standards, and asked them to undertake the necessary rulemaking activity and associated research without delay, that we hope will lead to a permanent change to the current regulations.
We recognise that this research will take time and we will continue to offer our full support to this work in any way we can. In the meantime, the CAA will issue initial Class 1 Medical certificates with a restriction to multi-pilot operations to applicants wishing to become commercial pilots, subject to the applicants passing their Class 1 Medical assessment.