Science & Technology

Nonprofit's Efforts to Help Endangered Birds Hampered by FAA

In trouble with bureaucracy for paying pilots that assist with migrations


To continue its mission guiding whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida, Operation Migration is working to replace its three ultralight aircraft by next spring in order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Following an investigation in 2011, the FAA discovered that the Canada-based conservation nonprofit, which every fall uses the small planes to lead the endangered birds from marshes in Wisconsin to wintering grounds in Florida, had been compensating their pilots for their migration trips, in violation of federal regulations for ultralights.

The small, open-air planes can be used only for recreational purposes, said Dick Knapinski, spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh.

"Essentially, it's a low-cost, low-speed, low-altitude aircraft," Knapinski said of ultralights. "But when pilots are compensated, the bar is raised and that's something that the FAA looks at with more scrutiny."

(Hat tip to Mark Sletten)