Whooping cranes were grounded by FAA restrictions
BY JENNY PRICE
Article courtesy of the ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 22, 2001
Flight restrictions federal aviation officials imposed
following terrorist attacks in New York and Washington
did not just halt commercial air travel and strand travelers
worldwide. They also temporarily grounded a group of nine
whooping cranes in Wisconsin getting ready to fly south
Researchers with the nonprofit group Operation Migration
are hoping to establish the nation's second migratory
flock of the endangered birds by leading the cranes with
an ultralight aircraft in October to the Chassahowitzka
National Wildlife Refuge in central Florida.
To build up their endurance for the journey, the cranes
have been taking to the skies over the Necedah National
Wildlife Refuge since July, led by the ultralight.
The birds' training flights were halted Sept.
11 when the Federal Aviation Administration grounded aircraft
that use visual flight rules, which allow small aircraft
to fly with little contact with air traffic controllers.
Since the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center,
the FAA had allowed only instrument-rated pilots who file
flight plans with airports to fly.
But the cranes resumed their training flights Friday
after the government reopened the nation's rural
airspace to small planes, including the ultralights used
to train the whooping cranes.
"They flew really beautifully this morning,''
Operation Migration pilot Deke Clark said after taking
the cranes for an 8-minute flight Saturday morning.
The birds, which hatched in May from eggs at the Patuxent
Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., exercise daily
to build their strength so they can follow the ultralight,
as they would their parents, on a predetermined route
"If this (the FAA restrictions) went on for about two,
two-and-a-half weeks, it would have been very difficult
to make it all come together,'' Clark said.
Beth Goodman, with the state Department of Natural Resources
endangered resources program, said officials were considering
writing letters and making telephone calls to win an exemption
from the FAA for the crane migration project before officials
lifted the restrictions.
"If we had lost a fair amount of time, or the project
would have ended, that would have been very sad,''
Goodman and Clark said the birds won't leave right
on schedule, but there's still time to make up their
missed training so they can leave for Florida by mid-October.
"I'd just as soon not fly in the snow,''
said Clark, a retired military and commercial airline
The cranes started their training when the sound of
an ultralight engine was played to them while they were
still in the eggs.
The whooping cranes will follow the same route south
that 11 sandhill cranes from the Necedah refuge following
an ultralight took last October. The sandhill cranes made
the return trip on their own last spring.
Whooping cranes, named for their loud mating call, were
thought to number between 700 and 1,400 in North America
before unregulated hunting and habitat destruction brought
them close to extinction in the 1940s.
About 400 whooping cranes exist in the world, with 188
of them migratory.