In a temporary win for transgender trainee-pilot Adam Harry, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has requested him to submit a new application for medical assessment required for further training to become an airline pilot two years after he was told that a hormone therapy he was undergoing for gender transition rendered him “unfit” to fly.
The DGCA has also clarified that there were no restrictions on transgender people seeking pilot’s licence and a hormone therapy alone will not preclude anyone from flying.
The development follows a scathing letter from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to the DGCA on Monday calling its decision of denying a transgender person a commercial pilot licence “discriminatory” and violative of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. The Ministry has also urged the aviation regulator to lay down guidelines for licensing of transgender persons to become pilots and develop medical standards for them when they are under gender affirming hormone therapy. The Hindu reported on July 3 that the DGCA’s denial of a medical assessment to Mr. Harry while he was on a hormone treatment virtually rendered him incapable of becoming a commercial or an airline pilot as a trans-man in India.
In January 2020, Mr. Harry applied for a class-2 initial medical examination by the DGCA, to be able to convert his private pilot licence from an aviation academy in South Africa to India so that he could start his commercial pilot training. But he was assessed as “temporary unfit” for six months as he was undergoing a cross-sex hormone treatment. He was told he could seek a review after completing his treatment. In August 2020, the DGCA granted him a valid medical assessment after Mr. Harry stopped the therapy. But Mr. Harry says his is a life-long therapy and doctors have advised him not to take a break in his treatment, and he wants to be able to fly as a trans-man.
‘Just a beginning’
“I am happy about the DGCA’s response. This is just a beginning and I know I have a tough battle ahead of me in a world where heteronormative attitudes prevail and there is little tolerance towards gender non-conformity. I am looking forward to flying in India without compromising on my identity as a man,” Mr. Harry told The Hindu.
The DGCA has clarified in a press statement that there are “no restrictions on transgender people to obtain pilot’s licence and ratings”, subject to certain requirements such as “age, educational qualifications, medical fitness, knowledge, experience etc”.
It has also said that hormone replacement therapy will not disqualify a candidate if there are no adverse symptoms or reactions. However, “flying duties are not permitted while the dose of hormonal treatment is being stabilised or until an adequate physiological response has been achieved and the dose no longer needs changing.”
The DGCA has said that Mr. Harry’s medical evaluation was undertaken in line with the “world’s best practices” and that it followed the process specified by the U.S. aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in its Guide for Medical Examiners and a request to Mr. Harry in 2020 to submit an evaluation by a psychologist was also in line with the FAA’s evaluation of transgender persons on hormone treatment using World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines (WPATH).