Ping Pong Flyover is No More

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has squashed one of the beloved traditions of Sister Bay’s Fall Festival.

The ping-pong ball drop, which serves as the annual finale to Fall Fest weekend in mid-October, can no longer be based out of a helicopter flying over Bayshore Drive.

Who’s going to break the news to this guy that his hat is now just a reminder of drops gone by?

Organizers are working with the Sister Bay/ Liberty Grove Fire Department to come up with an alternative plan.

Last year windy conditions bounced the helicopter around a bit as it flew over the crowd. There were no injuries or incidents, but a member of the crowd filed a complaint with the FAA. An FAA official contacted Rich Larsen, chair of the village’s Fall Festival Committee, last November to investigate.

Larsen said the helicopter pilot told him the weather conditions were not a problem before going up, and he explained how the event worked to the FAA official. He talked about putting together some best management practices for the event that would include more specific safety guidelines, but never heard from the official again until July.

“In mid-July I received a certified letter basically telling us we couldn’t do it again,” Larsen explained. “It said that it’s illegal to drop anything from an aircraft, except in certain permitted situations, but under no circumstances can you drop something with people underneath.”

In past years during inclement weather, the drop has turned into a shoot, in which the fire department used air cannons to shoot the ping pong balls from a fire truck into the crowd. That is one possibility the committee is considering. Another is to shoot the balls from a few different locations throughout the village to avoid a crowd surge.

The lure of the ping-pong ball drop has long been the centerpiece of Fall Festival Sundays, keeping customers around for a few extra hours and earning businesses a chunk of extra income at the end of the season.

“We’re all pretty bummed out about it,” Larsen said.