FAA says pilots can guide whooping cranes

January 9, 2012 - 5:40 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal aviation officials will allow conservationists to lead 10 young whooping cranes to their winter home in Florida using an ultralight aircraft that the cranes apparently think is a mother bird.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Monday that it will grant a one-time waiver to the regulations so that the migration can be completed.

Conservationists with Operation Migration are trying to re-establish an Eastern flyway for whooping cranes, which nearly became extinct in the 1940s, by teaching young birds how to make the journey. But their pilots are paid for their work. FAA regulations say ultralights can only be flown for personal use.

The cranes and their bird-plane were more than halfway through their 1,285-mile journey from Wisconsin when they were grounded in northwestern Alabama last month.