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.