It’s been a beautiful winter for ice fishing in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Due to the especially cold weather, many lakes froze early giving hardy ice fishermen an early start to the season. On top of that, a Wisconsin Brewery, Lakemaid from Stevens Point, had developed the ability to deliver cold and fresh beer straight to their fishing spots via drone. They’d never run out of beer again! No one would have to make that cold trek to shore to visit the bar or liquor store. Technology to the rescue!
Enter the FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration. They spotted a video put up on YouTube by the brewery showing their test flight of what they call their UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The FAA won’t have it, and they put a stop to it.
Although there are almost no laws governing drones specifically, the FAA rules the airspace and have determined that commercial drones, even when granted a research exception to the ‘no commercial drones’ rule, cannot fly higher than 400 feet. This means that the typical RC helicopter (seen here) is fine for a toy, but toss a delivery service into the mix and things become criminal. Additionally, Lakemaid was caught dead to rights. These drones flew higher than that and were officially in the FAA’s domain.
The Internet arose in full fury mode. Twitter and Facebook were inundated with stories of the beer drone shutdown. What seemed like a peaceful, logical and useful application of drone technology was being eliminated while military usage grew almost unrestricted.
Lakemaid even started a Whitehouse government petition asking the Obama administration to put their drones in the skies again. As of this writing only 1405 signatures have been gathered with only 98,595 to go by March 1st, 2014.
The drone in use by Lakemaid Brewery is a DJIF550, which can handle about a 12-pack or a little less on a day with windy flying conditions. Jack Supple, the president of Lakemaid, has said the company was pleased with their drone marketing so far and were about to order a larger model when the FAA called and put a stop to their drone operations. They will be keeping a sharp eye on the upcoming regulations, so they can continue their drone beer deliveries in a safe, legal manner.
Lakemaid isn’t the only commercial operator of drones that has received cease and desist orders from the FAA. A real estate company in Wisconsin had been using drones to get pictures of properties, and the University of Nebraska had been using them for journalism purposes. These programs have been halted.
Currently there are few regulations for drone technology despite the publicly-announced development by large companies like Amazon and Domino’s Pizza. The FAA is expected to come out with comprehensive regulation in 2015. In the meantime grounding protects the public from things like falling objects that could do harm to people or property.
It’s expected that special training and licenses will be involved, so drones won’t be filling our airspace for some years to come. For the time being ice fishermen will have to haul more beer out on the lake by themselves!