Increased Tariffs on Chinese Drones and the “Drones for First Responders Act”: Perspective from Skyfire Consulting

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New Drone Legislation Targets Chinese Imports While Supporting First Responders

DRONELIFE is presents this guest post by Matt Sloane, the Founder and CEO of Skyfire Consulting. As a consulting firm specializing in helping public safety departments, Sloane offers his thoughts on the “Drones for First Responders Act” introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.

Why I’ve Stayed Silent on the Chinese Drone Issue – Until Now

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced new legislation today, entitled the “Drone for First Responders Act”, which calls for an escalating tariff on drones imported from the People’s Republic of China; and in turn, invests those tariffs into a grant program to support public safety drone programs.

At first pass, this may seem like another “China is bad” legislation, but I take a different view of it.

First, let me say that as a general rule, our organization, Skyfire, has stayed silent on the issue of “good vs. bad” as it relates to Chinese drones. Let me explain why.

Generally, we exist to support our first responders and meet them where they are.

Some believe DJI and other Chinese-made drones are the greatest thing the drone industry has ever seen, and some believe they’re the devil. Some believe that the Chinese intelligence apparatus has a big room displaying all of our drone feeds on a giant wall of TVs, and others believe it’s all political hype.

Simply put: it’s not for me to decide.

What I do take issue with, is anything that limits our first responders’ ability to do their jobs.

I certainly understand that data leakage concerns are real, and various national security related agencies shouldn’t take the risk that their data is being compromised. I also understand that most local agencies aren’t overly concerned about the Chinese seeing what’s happening at the local gas station. I think a “risk matrix” type approach is probably best.

Why I am coming out strongly in support of the “Drones for First Responders Act” is because it does all of those things I just mentioned.

The legislation takes into account the idea that concerns about PRC-made drones are real, but doesn’t call for an outright ban.

It also takes into consideration that many peoples’ main objection to using American-made drones is the increased cost to already budget-strapped agencies – and it helps alleviate some of those concerns by reinvesting money back into grant programs that help fund those purchases.

It accounts for the fact that a further limitation on PRC drones is likely coming, and seeks a middle-ground approach towards disincentivizing people from buying them, while at the same time incentivizing them to buy alternative drones — BUT — it doesn’t call for a ban.

It does, however, do something many of us have called for for years — effectively subsidize the American (and allied) drone industry to continue innovating, making better products and developing drones with feature sets as closely aligned with those of their Chinese counterparts.

Let me be VERY clear on this point too: I do, and will continue to support any agency that wants to use DJI, Autel or any other drone for that matter, if they’re legally allowed to use that tool, and choose to do so.

But we should also be clear that bans and limitations on Chinese-made products are happening in many places, and will likely continue to happen; so we need to do what we can to support people who are under those restrictions.

In the current climate of grandstand politics, I think this legislation is a measured and well thought out approach to a real problem facing our first responders; and I applaud Rep. Stefanik and her staff for doing something about it.

Matt Sloane CEO SkyfireMatt Sloane CEO SkyfireMatt Sloane is the CEO and founder of Skyfire Consulting and its parent company, Atlanta Drone Group. Before he founded Atlanta Drone Group in 2014, Matt spent 14 years in various roles at CNN in Atlanta, Matt has also worked as a certified Emergency Medical Technician for Emory EMS, working his way up to Chief of Resources and Planning for the department.
Matt is an inaugural member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) technical committee on drones, a technical advisor to the International Association of Fire Chiefs technology council, and an FAA-certified pilot.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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