Wednesday, Sep 27, 2023

India's First Trans Trainee Pilot Adam Harry's Case That Led DGCA To Work On Policy For Trans Pilots

India's First Trans Trainee Pilot Adam Harry's Case That Led DGCA To Work On Policy For Trans Pilots

Trans trainee pilot Adam Harry was disallowed by aviation regulator DGCA from flying on grounds of gender dysphoria and hormone therapy.

Representative image of passenger planes Outlook India

The aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is working on a poliy for transgender pilots, according to a report. 

The Indian Express on Monday reported that the policy the DGCA is working on would be in line with norms and regulations laid down by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The report comes after DGCA declined Adam Harry, a transgender pilot, his flying licence on grounds of gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy. Harry, enrolled in a flying school, would have been the first Indian trans pilot. 

Here we explain Harry's case, what the DGCA and Civil Aviation Ministry said on the subject, and what we know about the policy DGCA is working on. 

Adam Harry's case

Adam Harry was certified female at birth. He underwent surgery in 2021 and began his hormonal therapy in 2018.

The Economic Times reported that he underwent extensive medical examination and was also asked "several uncomfortable transphobic questions". Eventually, as stated above, he was declared unfit to fly because of gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy.

Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics, according to Mayo Clinic. The DGCA declared Haryy unfit citing this condition as such a condition "could lead to depression and anxiety that can further disrupt the person’s life and have negative impact on their daily life", reported The Economic Times.

Moreover, the paper cited DGCA telling Harry to undergo tests once the therapy is complete. But that's not possible as trans people need hormone therapy throughout their life. 

Harry told The New Indian Express that he would be certified to fly anywhere outside India. 

He further said, "The only difference is that I take additional supplements for testosterone which a male body produces naturally by birth. The DGCA must study the guidelines in other foreign countries which offer flying licences to the third gender and revise the criteria to certify pilots in India."

Harry has filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court against DGCA.

What Civil Aviation Ministry said on trans pilots

Members of Parliament Priyanka Chaturvedi and AA Rahim raised the case of trans pilots in Rajya Sabha.

In a question to Ministry of Civil Aviation, available on Rajya Sabha website, Chaturvedi and Rahim asked: 

Whether the DGCA as a policy does not provide pilot license to transpersons;

(b) if so, the reasons for the same;
(c) whether the medical tests for issuing license do not recognise transpersons;
(d) if so, the reasons for the same;
(e) whether transpersons undergoing hormone therapy are denied medical
clearance; and
(f) if so, the scientific and medical basis on which this is done?

In the answer their questions, MoS Aviation General (Retired) VK Singh replied that "there are no restrictions for a transpersons to obtain a pilot license from DGCA". The answer further stated that hormone therapy is not criteria to disallow anyone from flying.

Singh's reply stated, "Use of hormonal replacement therapy is not a disqualifying criteria if the applicant has no adverse symptoms or reactions."

However, there is one condition. The minister's reply stated, "However, flying duties are not permitted while the dose of hormonal treatment is being stabilized or until an adequate physiological response has been achieved and the dose no longer needs to be changed."

It added that the norms stated in the reply are in line with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

What we know of DGCA policy in works

The policy that the DGCA is working on is in very early stage at the moment.

The Indian Express quoted a senior government official as saying, "Currently, there are no restrictions for any trans person to get a pilot licence as long as they comply with the various provisions that include age, medical fitness, knowledge, experience, etc. However, there is no stated policy and that is something the DGCA is working on."

As stated above, the DGCA policy in the making is based on US FAA's norms and regulations. The FAA amended its rules in 2016, allowing a smoother certification process of trans pilots.

The US-based National LGBTQ Task Force highlighted the difference between pre-2016 and post-2016 rules in the United States.

"Transgender pilots were previously required to take an extraordinary battery of psychological tests including memory, personality, projective and intelligence tests among others. Transgender pilots were frequently grounded or lost their jobs due to the burdensome process," noted the Task Force.

It explained the changes: "Trans pilots must still receive medical certification like other pilots but will only be required to submit current clinical records with an evaluation from a psychiatrist or psychologist and reports on any surgery." 


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