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The fun police at the FAA have struck again, grounding a beer drone operation that served as a promising new way to locally deliver microbrews.
Minnesota-based Lakemaid Beer was experimenting with delivering its product -- called "the fisherman's lager" -- to ice fisherman on the state's frozen lakes via unmanned drone, NPR reports. That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration dropped the hammer.
Why are drone beer deliveries so high on the FAA's radar?
Lager-Laden Drones Flying Too High
As a cute promotional video illustrates, Lakemaid Beer's plans included taking down the GPS coordinates of an ordering customer at a local bait/tackle shop and programming a drone to fly beer to that location:
As some YouTube commenters pointed out, there are practical issues with using a drone to lift and carry something as heavy as a case of beer. But the FAA had other concerns.
According to NPR, Lakemaid's managing partner Jack Supple received a notice from the FAA that the beer company's plan broke "four -- and possibly five -- regulations." This isn't too surprising; Amazon's commercial drone plans evoked several legal issues, including problems with FAA regulations.
In fact, The Washington Post reported that Amazon's test flight of its delivery drone was probably shot in Canada in order to avoid FAA restrictions.
Supple told NPR that he assumed, like many others, that the drones would be nice and legal as long as they stayed "under the 400-foot limit." However, that rule only applies to model airplanes used for recreation and not drones used for commercial purposes. Until the FAA changes it regulations, any commercial drone use above ground level is too high.
Is There Hope for Beer Drones?
The FAA issued a press release in November promising to address the issue of commercial drones ... in the next 10 to 15 years. The agency's official roadmap for regulation, however, suggests that small drones (like the ones in Lakemaid's video) might be legally airworthy as early as 2015.
For now, unfortunately, the only drones which can be deemed legal to fly for business purposes are those which are certified by the FAA. And the FAA is only certifying drones for research or experimental use.
So it may be a couple years before a frosty beer can be flown to you on a frozen lake. Guess you'll have to rely on a St. Bernard with whiskey 'til then.