Migration Pilots Defend FAA

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Operation Migration (OM) has leapt to the defense of the FAA in light of the recent controversy over the use of allegedly paid pilots in the well-known aircraft-led migration of whooping cranes to Florida. In a letter to AVweb, OM spokesman David Sakrison said the temporary grounding of this year's migration resulted from the persistent complaints of an unidentified person outside of OM and was not initiated by the FAA, which has been supportive of the effort and had previously inspected and cleared all aspects of the operation. The LSA-category trikes flown by the OM pilots cannot be used commercially and OM and the FAA had previously agreed that while the pilots were paid OM employees, the flying was done voluntarily. However, the launching of a formal complaint by the same person obliged the FAA to open an investigation and the pilots voluntarily grounded themselves in Alabama to avoid any chance of being found in violation. "At that time, agency officials made it clear that they would work with us toward a solution, possibly through a permanent exemption from the 'flying for hire' prohibition," Sakrison wrote. The new rule is expected to be in effect in a few months, in time for the spring cycle of the migration. However, not even the blessing of the mighty FAA is more powerful than Mother Nature and the pilots won't be needed any longer.

Between weather and the almost month-long grounding, it may have simply got too late to complete the trip by air and the cranes were trucked to wildlife refuges in Alabama. "Maybe we have stayed too long in Alabama and for them migration is over," ultralight pilot Joe Duff wrote in a blog entry. Longer days, the angle of the sun and warmer temperatures may also have caused the birds to wander off the southerly course plotted by the trikes and the pilots had to finally give up. A new refuge in Wisconsin awaits them when the urge to fly north strikes in a couple of months or so.