FAA Grounds Beer Seller's Drone Delivery Plans

Saturday, 01 Feb 2014 08:23 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Thirsty Minnesota ice fishermen will have to go out on beer runs the old-fashioned way now that federal officials have shut down a businessman's plan to use drones to fly 12-packs to their fishing huts.

"As much as they thought it was a funny idea, it was a violation of all sorts of codes," Lakemaid Beer Co.  President Jack Supple told ABC News.

The company's plans were shot down after it posted a promotional video on YouTube, showing the company attaching beer to a drone and sending it flying to a fishing hut, to the delight of the people sitting in the middle of a frozen lake.

The Federal Aviation Administration, within a week after the video was posted, called Lakemaid to ground its delivery drones.

Story continues below video.

"I understand why they had to shut it down, but I would like to do it for our fishermen," said Supple, also noting that Super Bowl weekend could have made his business a lot of money. "The fishermen are going to sit there from Friday 5 p.m. all the way through Sunday. That's a long time to be out there on a frozen lake."

FAA spokesman Les Dorr joked with ABC about shutting down Lakemaid's beer flight fleet.

"This is "barley news," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said. "The media just hops on it. I hope things finally have come to a head."

But turning more serious, Dorr said using drones for commercial purpose is illegal under federal law.

"The FAA's prime directive is safety and while we are evaluating a lot of different potential uses of unmanned aircraft as we're moving toward safely integrating them into the national airspace, commercial operations of unmanned aircraft is not allowed," Dorr said.

The federal agency plans to publish rules on unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds this year and regulations on commercial drones in 2015.

Supple isn't the only businessman looking to the skies for quick drone deliveries. In December, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said his mammoth online retail operation is looking at plans to use "octocopter" mini-drones to fly packages to consumers in a half-hour or less.

Amazon's plans will remain grounded until additional safety testing and federal approval is completed, but Bezos says he believes the company's "Prime Air" will up and flying in four to five years.

Supple admitted the FAA has a "million ideas" to consider.

"I don't want to get hit in the head with a pair of dress shoes ordered from Amazon," he told ABC.

However, he said his drones will face far fewer obstacles than Amazon's, because the beer would be flown across "vast, wide-open frozen lakes free of trees and power lines … as the crow flies, straight to our target based on GPS coordinates. Fish houses are very uniform in height, so we can fly lower than FAA limits, too," he said.

Supple said there are some other obstacles to work out too, such as payment and checking identification so no beer is flown out to underaged, beer-drinking ice fishermen.

"A pilot maneuvered drone could possibly confirm that," Supple said. "But we have time to work it out."

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