The FAA has reversed its recent decision to ground the pilots of Operation Migration, and will allow them to finish a flight leading whooping crane chicks to Florida from Michigan, The New York Times reported on Monday. The birds were grounded in Alabama last week after the FAA couldn't resolve a question about whether the flights, which are led by pilots flying trikes, violate rules regarding paid pilots. That issue, however, remains unresolved. The FAA said on Monday it is granting a "one-time exemption" so the flight can be completed, and then "will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution."
"The issue in question is whether or not OM's pilots are flying 'for hire,'" wrote David Sakrison, director of Operation Migration, at the organization's blog. "OM aircraft are licensed as Light Sport Aircraft. FAA regulations prohibit flying LSAs for hire or as part of business activities." Sakrison said that 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, Sakrison said, the FAA FSDO in Milwaukee "investigated the status of OM's flight operations and accepted OM's explanation." Joe Duff, also writing at the Operation Migration blog, added that questions were raised about whether the trike pilots could fly for hire when they lack commercial ratings. Neither the FAA nor Operation Migration has said who complained to the FAA about the flights and set off the investigation that led to last week's grounding, according to the Times. Duff said the birds have been resting since the delay and are "doing fine."