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operationmigration.org, Associated Press
This photo, taken in 2006, provided by operationmigration.org shows Operation Migration co-founder Joe Duff followed by juvenile Whooping cranes along a new migration route in Green County, Wis. Ten young whooping cranes and the small plane they think is their mother are grounded after running afoul of federal regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit pilots from getting paid to fly the bird-like plane that guides the endangered cranes on their first migration from Wisconsin and to their winter home in Florida. The plane, along with the birds, are currently grounded in Alabama.

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators are trying to decide whether to issue a waiver allowing a salaried pilot to continue to fly a bird-like plane that 10 young whooping cranes think is mama to the birds' winter home in Florida.

Operation Migration, a conservation group that guides the young birds on their first 1,285-mile fall migration, says it voluntarily grounded the plane and the birds in Alabama last month after FAA officials notified them the agency had opened an investigation.

FAA regulations say only pilots with commercial pilot licenses can fly for hire. The Operation Migration pilots are licensed to fly sport planes. The regulations also prohibit sport aircraft — which are sometimes of exotic design — from being flown to benefit a business or charity.