Saturday, January 07, 2012

Let the Cranes Fly!


Told ya! From the FAA's facebook wall...

"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 always regarded everyone at Operation Migration as heroes, especially the ultralight pilots who accept the risk of flying the endangered Whooping Cranes down to Florida. As many of you know by now, Whooper Class of 2011 is stalled in northern Alabama waiting for Federal Aviation Administration to grant OM pilots a waiver. At issue is whether the pilots are flying for hire or the benefit of a nonprofit organization. Ultralight planes are licensed as sport aircraft and FAA rules prohibit flying them for hire. Once OM is granted a waiver by the FAA (which they will undoubtedly get), the pilots and cranes will be able complete their migration, with help from many friends, closing yet another chapter in this amazing and unique wildlife reintroduction program.

But I wonder how Chris Gullikson's legacy and reputation will fare once the propeller dust settles. As identified by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chris is the disgruntled former Operation Migration employee (and pilot) who filed complaints to the FAA against OM. As such, Chris well knows the vast majority of hours worked by the pilots, year round, does not involve flying at all. They're not only pilots. The job requires unfailing patience and dedication, working with the cranes at all times. And even when they are flying, their main focus is the cranes. They must be in costume, are not allowed to talk, and must avoid coughing and sneezing as much as humanly possible. Even during the peak of migration, they are on duty 24/7 while only being in the air a few hours at most, and only on the days when weather permits flying.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, "The FAA scrutiny came after a former Operation Migration employee filed a complaint. The FAA office in Milwaukee told Operation Migration officials that the migration could go forward. But when a second complaint was filed at the regional level, the agency opened an investigation." Clearly, for Chris it's no longer about saving an endangered species; it's all about him and his personal vendetta against OM.

To me it doesn't seem like Chris has carefully thought through all the repercussions of going after a former employer, especially one as popular in the public eye as Operation Migration. I don't know the particulars and circumstances surrounding his termination with OM, but I was taught long ago never to burn a career bridge. So, what about any future prospective employers? Are they likely to hire someone who might turn on them should things sour?

There is an outpouring of support from people from all around the world calling for the FAA to act quickly to get the whoopers back into the air. One would hope Chris would have anticipated how unpopular his ill-intended actions would go over with the public and just moved on with his life instead of going after a nonprofit during troubled economic times. Though Chris may have scored a few legal and technical points, he will not have earned any moral points through his heartless and selfish behavior.

Link: New York Times article

Link: Huffington Post article