At the beginning of January 2020, I knew that this was going to be a year like no other. I'd just become a fully qualified first officer on the Embraer 145 and in doing so realised a life-long ambition and boyhood dream. I was about to come out publicly as the person who had challenged and changed regulations in order to become Europe's first newly qualified airline pilot living with HIV. And, in March, my airline staff travel was about to kick-in and I fully intended to spend every last second of annual leave pinballing around the world like a post university student on a gap yah. Alas, this wasn't to be!
I've been lucky enough to keep flying through furlough and in the final days of the year passed the magic '500 hours in the sky' mark. In days gone by, this would have been the ticket to a big jet job for many a young aviator. I think it's reasonable to assume that with thousands of pilots now competing for a handful of jobs across the market, it'll be a good number of years before such roles will be available again to those of us so new to the industry. Like many, I'm still very much staring down the barrel of a redundancy gun in 2021 and I can only hope that government restrictions are lifted in time so that nobody needs to pull the trigger. Needless to say though, it feels just as scary as it looks in the movies! The flip side of the situation is that it has forced me to be more resourceful than ever before; exploring new ways to makes ends meet, living life as lean as can possibly be, and if it comes to it, moving anywhere in the world to keep flying. For a pilot living with HIV however, it's not that simple.
At present, my medical only allows me to fly as part of a multi-crew. Avaition is much wider than the typical airline world we think of. There is island hopping in the Caribbean, surveying in the polar regions, crop dusting in the Americas, bush flying in Africa, the list goes on! The challenge for me in 2021 is to have the multi-pilot limitation removed from the medicals of anyone living with HIV, so that we too can equally compete for these sorts of roles should the time come. Over the coming months, I want to use Plus Pilot as a platform for other aviators who have faced a challenge to get to the flight deck to share their stories too. I hope that in sharing our collective skills, knowledge and experience, that we might be able to help others find their pathway to the flight deck.
Getting an unrestricted medical isn't the only stumbling block to pilots living with HIV. All of us now know what it feels like to have our wings clipped, to be barred from another country because we might be the carriers of a deadly virus. When the current pandemic ends, all of the travel restrictions that prevent us from seeing the world just now will be lifted. For people living with HIV however, in 49 countries, these bars will remain. The rationale and necessity for their implementation was, I suspect, the same in the cases of both COVID 19 and HIV; bar suspected or positive people and reduce the risk of transmission amongst your population. If these barriers are to be brought down because we have a functional vaccine for COVID19, then they should too be brought down for people living with HIV. We too have a functional treatment for HIV, that renders the virus untransmittable. There is simply no place for border restrictions based on HIV status and I hope that, in taking the fresh lessons we have learned and drawing on the parallels between these 2 pandmenics, 2021 is the year that we can start to chip away at some of these barriers. I'll be doing everything I can to move that cause forward.