In my last entry I talked about how Operation Migration works. Up until a few minutes ago, I was going to write about a crisis they have been enduring, but thankfully has been rectified – for the moment.

To explain.

Up until about 2008 ultralight aircraft, which is used for these migrations, was unregulated by the FAA. However with the popularity of piloting them, the FAA has seen fit to regulate them as “sport / recreational” aircraft, and does not permit pilots to use them for profit or salary. The reason is logical – safety. They don’t want people opening up little businesses, for example, and taking people out on ultralight “joy rides” – which is clearly an unsafe use of these planes. Operation Migration pays it’s staff — including pilots, but doesn’t really fit into this category. So — from my view point, we’re talking about “spirit of the law” / “letter of the law” issues. Add to that, their safety record has been stellar during the over 10 years of doing migrations. Because pilots do so much else towards the care of the cranes, other than piloting, the FAA agreed with Operation Migration’s explanation that the pilots are donating their time, and their salary is based purely on the other tasks they do. And — with so many weather restrictions (flying conditions must be perfect on any flight training or migration day), actual flying time is a lot less than you’d think.

The chain of events are still sketchy for me, but around October a complaint was filed by a disgruntled former pilot of Operation Migration with the local Milwaukee office of the FAA, but they told Operation Migration it was ok to begin migration. However, in mid December a second complaint was filed, again by this same disgruntled employee, this time with the regional office. With that, all three pilots were sent a letter of investigation, and after some discussion, Operation Migration voluntarily shut themselves down so as not to be in non-compliance with the ruling. This came about during the Christmas break and they had hopes that it could be rectified before that was over, but it was not to be.

The motivations of this disgruntled employee are not worth getting into. Personally I do not want any more undue attention paid to him, and, instead, focus on the work of Operation Migration and especially the whooping cranes.

So — this left the 9 migrating whooping cranes stranded only a little more than 1/2 way through their migration in a pen in Alabama. They are being well taken care of, but the birds are the real victims of this mess! Time is of the essence for this migration. Operation Migration was working on some contingency plans for the birds in case this could not be resolved quickly which, thankfully do not have to be used.

I have been astounded at the outpouring of support for this organization – and for the cranes. And, it was not just lip service. It’s amazing what can get done when two or more are gathered together for a good cause! Facebook and communication via the internet took on a life of it’s own!

Throughout this week, things looked cautiously optimistic, yet I still worried because of some things that were said about how SLOWLY the wheels of governmental agencies work. There was talk that a ruling would not happen for 120 days or more? This would not be in time to save this year’s migration. Could a temporary waiver be issued just to get us through this migration?

So – – only a few hours ago – when I least expected it – the temporary waiver was granted and was finally posted on the FAA Facebook page. It lasts until March, giving ample time to finish this year’s migration.


“The FAA has granted an exemption to Operation Migration that will allow pilots to continue to aid the whooping crane migration. 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. The FAA will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution.”

I have faith that the FAA and Operation Migration can work out the details for a more permanent solution for future migrations.

For more information about Operation Migration, see their website:  www.operationmigration.org

And … to end, I think it fitting to include my favorite video of the whooping cranes. Listen to the words … they are compelling:

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