Feds Shoot Down Beer Delivery by Drone

It seemed like a foolproof business model, but the FAA says it's illegal.

National Journal

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It seemed like the perfect plan. Take thirsty ice fishermen, bring them beer with a drone, and watch the profits roll in. But unfortunately for Wisconsin's Lakemaid Beer, Uncle Sam thought otherwise.

Lakemaid — a beer co-owned by a brewery and fishing-lure company — was hoping to bolster its standing with its target demographic this Saturday, dispatching a drone to a Minnesota lake to bring six-packs to ice fishermen. But then the FAA got wind of the plan.

"Yesterday and the day before we've had calls from the FAA," said Lakemaid President Jack Supple. The agency informed him the delivery operation violated its ban on using drones for commercial purposes. Though Lakemaid didn't plan to charge for its test run, the publicity garnered from the deliveries still qualifies them as commercial use.

The company hatched the plan after seeing Amazon's drone-delivery scheme late last year. And while that concept has a long way to go, Lakemaid saw frozen lakes as the best opportunity to put drones into action. "It seems to me to be the perfect place to try this as opposed to bouncing off lampposts and church steeples in the city," Supple said. "[The lake] looks like a drone airport."

An initial test used a smaller drone — not capable of carrying a full six-pack — guided only by the pilot's line of site. But after the video of that run took off on social media, the company decided to go bigger. "Our core audience is very ready for this technology," Supple said. They purchased an eight-propeller drone, able to carry a six-pack up to a half-mile and hone in on GPS coordinates provided by thirsty fishermen.

Everything was ready to go for Saturday's deliveries — until the FAA stepped in. "They were nice about it," Supple admitted. "It wasn't like they were going to put me in jail." But the thick list of drone regulations the agency provided "will be a good weekend of reading," a far cry from his initial beer-flying plans.

FAA will set new drone rules in 2015, and Supple is optimistic his operation will be legalized, especially given the positive response from consumers. But that's little consolation this year. "I might be out of the drone business for a while," he sighed. "For now, they're just going to have to go the store and get the beer."