Beer drone tests brew up trouble with FAA

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A beer-delivering drone demonstration on an ice-covered Minnesota lake accomplished part of its publicity goal this week, whipping up some media attention and 34,000 views on YouTube (below).

But it also caught the attention of Federal Aviation Administration officials, who promptly notified Lakemaid Beer president Jack Supple that he was in violation of federal code.

"I'm on the FAA blacklist for now," Supple told the New York Daily News. "They're not too happy with me."

Federal law does not allow the use of drones for commercial use. The FAA said Supple broke that rule because of the publicity he was generating, even though no actual transaction took place in his tests, Supple told BringMeTheNews Thursday.

The FAA is trying to craft new rules for drone-flight transactions, but the deadline for those is not until next year.

Supple was trying to fly under the FAA's radar just a bit with his demonstration flights on Lake Waconia southwest of the Twin Cities. "I'm not wanting to take on the FAA," he said.

But he still plans longer-flight testing with his beer-toting drone on Mille Lacs – in a much quieter experiment, without the press release and video, he said.

"We still believe our basic model could work," Supple told BringMeTheNews. "It seems like if it is going to work anywhere, it's going to be on a frozen lake."

Supple is just the latest in a very long line of drone owners to catch the attention of the FAA.

Politico this week wrote about a hobbyist known as Trappy, who has irked federal regulators by flying his 5-pound foam aircraft around the Statue of Liberty, among other sites, which also include the French Alps and the wrecked Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia.

The FAA has issued a dozen orders to stop the use of drones for commercial pursuits, including operations performed by aerial photographers, videographers and journalism schools, San Francisco Gate reported last month. Meanwhile, some legal experts question whether the agency has authority over the use of private commercial drones flying below 400 feet and clear of airports, the newspaper noted.

Tens of thousands of the little civilian drones are sold and piloted by hobbyists every year in this country, NPR reported. NPR talked with a "Nick," who made his living shooting airborne films. "If this venture falls apart or the FAA comes along and tells me I can't be doing this, I have no idea what I'd do," he said.

Lakemaid's demo vid:

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