Beer buzz? FAA grounds plan to deliver 12-packs by drone

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2014 - 1:27 PM

The idea seemed ingenious: Delivering 12-packs of beer to the cold, windswept surfaces of popular ice fishing lakes — using a drone.

Lakemaid Beer president Jack Supple brewed up a plan this winter to quench the beer thirst of ice fishers on central Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs, with retailers taking orders using GPS coordinates.

He and his colleagues rented a drone, tested the idea on Lake Waconia and then put up a video. Set to cheery music, it featured a six-bladed unmanned craft gliding over fish houses and gently setting a box of Frosty Winter Lager on a snowy lake.

“Our Facebook page went wild because our fans loved the idea,” Supple said. The video went viral.

But before he could launch his lofty new business plan, the government grounded him.

Not so fast, the FAA told him.

The nation’s stewards of the air are still studying how to safely bring drones into modern life, and until then, their commercial use isn’t permitted, they explained. They e-mailed Supple a stack of documents that broke his printer.

“Our concern is the safety of people on the ground and the safety of people in the air,” FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory told the Star Tribune.

Supple said he understands their point. He’d scoffed — at first — when he saw reports of Amazon.com floating the idea of drone deliveries, thinking it was three sheets to the wind.

“That looked like it couldn’t possibly work. I can’t imagine them flying your shoes down the street here, in downtown Minneapolis, with all of the skyscrapers and people and trains and lamp posts,” Supple said.

But he could imagine them flying over wide-open frozen lakes. “That would be a far better testing ground because they’re vast and flat and people are in little fish houses out there,” he said.

Nevertheless, the drone brewski delivery is on pause for now.

“I see what they’re talking about. When you think of all of the people who are going to come up with ways to use these, the regulation of it is going to be important, so they’re learning as fast as we are,” Supple said.

In the meantime, he said, he’ll get ready by setting up droneports in key locations. And if he decides to do any more testing of beer delivery, he won’t put it on video.

 

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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