Most of you by now know the magical story of imprinting and then teaching baby whooping cranes a safe migration route between their summer in the north and wintering grounds in the south. The fictional movie "Fly Away Home" was loosely based on a similar story.
Unfortunately, the FAA suddenly grounded this year's migration teaching effort only 500 miles from finishing their guided tour to their wintering grounds.
The 2011 ultralight-led Whooping crane migration is currently on hold in Alabama while the Federal Aviation Administration sorts out a regulatory issue involving Operation Migration’s (OM) pilots and aircraft.
The FAA is working with OM to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. In the meantime, this year’s cohort is safely penned in Franklin County, Alabama, watched over daily by OM personnel.
The issue in question is whether or not OM’s pilots are flying “for hire,” or, for the furtherance of a non-profit. OM aircraft are licensed as Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) which came into effect in 2008. FAA regulations prohibit flying LSAs for hire or as part of business activities. The FAA has begun the process of evaluating a waiver to OM, exempting its pilots and aircraft from that rule.
OM has always maintained that its pilots are hired for a wide range of non-flying skills and duties, and that they volunteer their time as pilots. In 2010, the FAA Flight Service District Office (FSDO) in Milwaukee investigated the status of OM’s flight operations and accepted OM’s explanation. We were told by the FSDO director that “no further action would be taken.” Based on that ruling, we began the 2011 season.
In August 2011 the FAA inspected our aircraft, which passed with flying colors. In November a Letter of Investigation was sent to each pilot. After discussions with the FAA in December, Operation Migration voluntarily ceased any flying while the matter is resolved. We hoped that would happen during the Christmas break, but it is taking longer than anticipated.
The FAA is in support of this project and is working hard to resolve the matter in our favor. We appreciate their efforts.
We are also working with our WCEP partners to develop a contingency plan for completing the migration without aircraft, if necessary.
An FAA waiver would be based on two main factors: safety and public good. OM has never had an aircraft-related accident and its contribution to wildlife conservation is well-established. If you would like to offer support for OM in this matter, post a comment on our GuestBook. Supportive comments will be collected and forwarded to officials at the FAA.
Please support this effort to get the FAA moving with all speed to let them finish the last 500 miles. The remaining paperwork can be handled later.