CHASSAHOWITZKA — The young whooping cranes stranded in Alabama since mid December will soon be back on their migration path to Florida.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday granted a temporary waiver of the rules governing the ultralight aircraft and pilots that have been leading the young whooping cranes on the migration from Wisconsin to Florida for 11 years.
"Normally, the FAA limits light sport aircraft and pilots to personal flights without compensation. Because the operation is in mid-migration, the FAA is granting a one-time exemption so the migration can be completed,'' according to a news release by the FAA. "The FAA will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution."
Rules that changed in 2008 prohibit paying pilots to fly craft like the ultralights used by Operation Migration each winter.
A former employee of the organization filed a complaint. At first, a local office of the FAA in Wisconsin found no violation but another complaint to the regional office caused the agency to put Operation Migration on notice that there could be a violation.
At that point, the pilots of Operation Migration grounded the operation, and since then the nine birds composing the Class of 2011 have been cared for in a pen in northwest Alabama.
David Sakrison, a member of the Operation Migration board, said he was pleased with the outcome and the speed with which it came.
"It's a temporary waiver which doesn't solve the problem but it does get us through this migration, and the FAA promises to work with us,'' he said.
This means on the next good flying day, the birds can again be following ultralight aircraft toward their wintering grounds in the Florida Panhandle and in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge straddling Hernando and Citrus counties.
Monday would not have been a day for flying with downpours of rain, he said. "Weather has always been our biggest challenge,'' Sakrison said. "Maybe we could get ahold of the weather service and get a waiver from them too.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.