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FAA grounds flying beer drone; cites lack of legal precedent

By Angela Atkinson     Feb 3, 2014 in Technology
If you’re like many of today’s consumers, you might be counting down the days until an Amazon Drone, which was first unveiled in December, delivers your latest online purchase to your door.
While that system isn’t expected to launch before next year, one businessman hopes that the possibility of sending beer drones to your door will push that release date up a little.
The idea, first broadcast last week on YouTube, is the brainchild of Lakemaid Beer’s president, Jack Supple. He released a video that showed how easy it could be for a flying robot to carry a few cold beers to an angler on a lake.
In the video spot, a store clerk receives a delivery order and sends a 12-pack of beer via flying drone to a fishing shack on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota.
While the initial testing of the beer drone-delivery system proved that a 12-pack could be too heavy for delivery, a 10-pack seemed to work just fine.
"The problem of ice anglers is they’re way, way out on the lake and they’re there for the whole weekend so we needed a way to keep them in beer," Supple told NBC News.
Supple added that Lakemaid thought delivery to frozen lakes rather than big cities like Amazon would be smarter for its target market.
FAA grounds beer drones
But thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration, beer drones are grounded before they ever take flight.
"As much as [the FAA] thought it was a funny idea, it was a violation of all sorts of codes," Supple told ABC News. "I understand why they had to shut it down, but I would like to do it for our fishermen."
The agency contacted Lakemaid and told it to stop the flights because they were considered a commercial enterprise, Supple said, adding that the FAA pointed the company to a document called “Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap.”
"We were a little surprised at the FAA interest in this since we thought we were operating under the 400-foot limit," Supple told NPR via email. He adds that the beer-makers "figured a vast frozen lake was a lot safer place than [what] Amazon was showing on 60 Minutes."
The FAA's comprehensive document outlines restrictions on commercial drones, including one that states that people who wish to “design, manufacture, market or operate a UAS for a commercial mission and seeking FAA approval for that aircraft, its pilot and the operations,” should be aware that existing rules haven’t yet been created to handle the “unique features of the UAS.”
While a statement from beer-by-drone enthusiasts has reached the White House, asking lawmakers to “force the FAA to issue an Airworthiness Certificate for Beer Drones (BUAV’s),” there’s no word on the results.
"This innovative product-to-market technique allowed a small business to grow its brand and take advantage of a government-supported initiative to embrace UAV technology," the petition states. "The FAA has no standing to restrict the delivery of products by small businesses and choke economic growth."
The FAA document says that new rules will be in effect by 2015 that might allow for certain commercial uses of drones in the U.S.
Still, you’re on your own when it comes to getting your beer fix for now — at least until the law catches up to technology.
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