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FAA grants two-year rule exemption for whooping crane migration


MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - A 10-year-old project to reintroduce endangered whooping cranes in the Eastern U.S. has been given a new lease on life.

The FAA granted a two-year rule exemption to let Operation Migration pay the pilot of a light sport aircraft to guide baby cranes each fall from Wisconsin to Florida. That’s where the cranes meet up with possible mating partners during the winter.

Cranes were on their way to Florida a few months ago when a former pilot filed a complaint with the FAA – and the government grounded the mission, saying it’s against federal rules to pay ultra-light pilots. But Operation Migration said its pilots were paid for what they did on the ground, and not in the air.

The FAA granted a temporary exemption in February that allowed the trip to continue. But by then, project leaders said it was too late, and the cranes spent the rest of the winter at a refuge in Alabama.

In granting the two-year exemption, the FAA told the group to make some changes. The pilots will need private licenses instead of light-sport craft licenses. And by next year, the planes must be upgraded from experimental light aircraft to a special light craft that more closely resembles a single-engine plane.