If Congress bans DJI drones, here’s what that could do to hobby drone pilots

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Congress is on the verge of taking down a giant in the drone industry, but the collateral damage could clip the wings of American hobbyists. And it’s not just that, but it could also pinch their wallets as taxpayers. Here’s what you need to know about what might happen if Congress bans DJI drones.

Proposed legislation, called the Countering CCP Drones Act, takes aim largely at DJI, which has long been the world’s largest drone manufacturer. The Countering CCP Drones Act would place DJI on a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blacklist, effectively blocking new DJI drones from accessing the communication infrastructure needed to operate in the US.

Such a rule would very likely stifle innovation in the drone market, and it would almost certainly make it more expensive for hobby drone pilots and photographers to buy new gear. It also could make procuring government equipment more expensive for all Americans who pay taxes. That’s all due to proposed legislation that could ban DJI drones.

What happens if Congress bans DJI drones

Inside the Countering CCP Drones Act

The bill at hand is called H.R. 2864, the “Countering CCP Drones Act.” Introduced by Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), the controversial bill calls out Shenzhen Da-Jiang Innovations Sciences and Technologies Company Limited (the Chinese drone maker commonly known as DJI Technologies), specifically. The bill proposes a wide-ranging ban on drones manufactured by DJI, the world’s leading drone maker based in China.

And perhaps worst of all, the bill would prevent new DJI products from coming to market in the United States. Yes, the ban would only apply to new models of DJI drones from the time of the law being passed and on. That means it’s still okay to fly drones you already own. That’s a change from previous considerations of a rule change that would have also revoked authorizations of drones currently in use, according to federal filings.

So how exactly would it apply? DJI technologies would potentially be prohibited from operating on U.S. communications infrastructure. Since drones largely rely on FCC networks, the law would make these drones unusable in the U.S., as the FCC would no longer be able to approve new equipment authorizations for DJI products in the U.S. Read the full Countering CCP Drones Act bill text here.

While the act cites national security concerns over potential Chinese espionage, the real-world impact could be felt most acutely by American drone enthusiasts. And on a secondary level, it’ll be felt by all people who pay taxes to the use government.

Of course, the Countering CCP Drones Act isn’t happening in a vacuum. This proposed legislation comes at a time when lawmakers are also discussing bans on other Chinese technology, such as TikTok. While the specific concerns differ – TikTok with social media influence and DJI with potential drone surveillance – both are fueled by anxieties over Chinese technology companies potentially collecting user data or acting as conduits for espionage. And both proposed bans raise similar questions about the effectiveness of broad strokes in addressing complex national security issues.

“Communist China is using their monopolistic control over the drone market and telecommunications infrastructure to target Americans’ data and closely surveil our critical infrastructure,” the bill’s sponsor Rep. Elise Stefanik (R–N.Y.) said in a statement related to the Countering CCP Drones Act.

What a DJI drone ban could do to the hobby drone industry

DJI is synonymous with consumer drones, offering a wide range of affordable, user-friendly options. With no more DJI products, the concept of affordable, user-friendly options for hobby pilots could end. After all, very few recreational drones are aimed at hobby users.

According to the Countering CCP Drones Act, DJI makes more than 50% of drones sold in the U.S. By some metrics, the DJI market share is even higher.

There’s not a single drone under $500 made in America that I’d recommend. Even with a larger budget stretched to $1,000, I would have recommended the Skydio 2 drone, which started at $999. But that drone is no more either. Skydio killed its consumer drone arm in 2023 to focus on military and enterprise markets — as that’s where the money is at.

What about drones that aren’t necessarily made in America, but that just aren’t made by DJI? Even the options are slim. My guide to the best camera drones focuses on products that hobbyists and prosumers would reasonable be able to afford. There are only a few other options I’d recommend. That includes the Autel Evo Lite+. That drone is also made in China.

Other legislation that limits DJI drones

There’s no shortage of proposed legislation seeking to crack down on DJI.

For example, the American Security Drone Act of 2023 is a bipartisan bill that would prohibit federal agencies from purchasing drones made by Chinese government-linked countries.  Sponsors include Sen. Mitt Romney [R-UT], Sen. Mark Warner [D-VA], Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL], Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-CT], Sen. Marsha Blackburn [R-TN], Sen. Christopher Murphy [D-CT], and Sen. Josh Hawley [R-MO].

There’s also the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)’s Buy American Act. That Act sets a threshold for how much of a product needs to have been made in America to actually count as American-made. Right now, the threshold is 65% of parts must have been made in America. Though, it increases to 70% by 2029.

 FAR’s Buy American Act only applies to products that the U.S. government buys for its own use using federal financial assistance. Though, there are a number of exceptions. That includes if the U.S.-made version is not available at what’s considered a ‘reasonable’ cost. And if DJI drones are considered reasonably priced, then its American-made counterparts are definitely not.

Those all apply to federal agencies. This new law, though, would impact hobby drone pilots if enacted.

The top things hobby pilots should worry about if Congress bans DJI drones

This legislation could introduce a slew of changes for the way hobby pilots buy and fly drones. That includes: Here’s what hobbyists need to worry about:

  • Limited choices: DJI’s dominance in the consumer market means the options for finding comparable alternatives are slim. With few other options, drone pilots not get the specs they need at a price point they can afford.
  • Reduced innovation in drones: It’s no secret that DJI has been among the biggest innovators in drone tech. When DJI launched its Phantom 4, consumers got unprecedented sense and avoid technology. The Mavic Pro drone made drones way more portable. And newer products like the Avata drone have made FPV flying and racing accessible via ready to fly drones. With DJI out, a key innovator in the market could go away.
  • Second-hand woes: Here’s one point that could be compelling, given that the current proposed legislation would only apply to new drones — not ones already purchased. The cost to buy a second-hand DJI drone could go way up. On the bright side: drone owners looking to offload old models might be able to sell their used drones for more than before.

The security concerns around DJI are a valid discussion to have. But a blanket scenario where Congress bans DJI drones is a blunt instrument that punishes American consumers in the process.

How it could increase costs for all taxpayers

It’s not just hobbyists who could pay more for their own drones — but all taxpayers who could pay more for the government’s drones.

Government agencies, like the National Park Service, use affordable DJI drones for non-sensitive operations like counting wildlife or surveying landscapes. These tasks are crucial for conservation efforts, and DJI drones offer a cost-effective way to conduct them.

Similarly, many search and rescue, law enforcement and other first responder operations also use DJI drones. The DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise offers survey and thermal tools at amuch more affordable price than other enterprise drones. Even indoor drones like the $999 Avata 2 conduct indoor inspections in buildings that are too unsafe for people to enter.

Forcing a switch to more expensive alternatives could waste taxpayer dollars.

What laws might be better?

Congress should explore more targeted measures that address the specific security risks without crippling the burgeoning drone hobbyist community. Alternative solutions worth exploring could include:

  • Mandating stricter security protocols for all drone manufacturers, not just Chinese companies.
  • Investing in American drone companies to foster domestic competition and create secure alternatives.
  • Developing a licensing system that allows pre-approved, secure drones to operate freely.

Drones offer a unique perspective for photography, videography, mapping, environmental monitoring, and even just pure fun (like racing!). They have the potential to revolutionize industries and empower individuals. Congress needs to find a way to address security concerns without grounding the dreams of American drone enthusiasts. Perhaps even more critical though, is doing it without squeezing the budgets of government agencies.

If Congress bans DJI drones, the hobby drone industry as we know it will change forever. For now, though, the bill is just in the introduction phase. It has not passed in the House nor the Senate. Track its status here.

Whether TikTok or DJI drones, lawmakers should come wit a more nuanced approach that fosters domestic innovation while mitigating legitimate security risks. And they should do it without unfairly punishing American consumers, taxpayers and businesses in the process.

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