China blacklist DJI Mini 2 Mavic Mini

Now that DJI is on the US’s China blacklist, should you buy a DJI drone?

Should you buy a new drone from DJI? In particular, should you buy one now that the U.S. has added DJI to a China blacklist?

The U.S. government in December 2020 added Chinese drone manufacturer DJI to a list of companies on its restricted trade list. That was alongside other big Chinese companies such as China’s top chipmaker, SMIC.

DJI joins restricted trade list

It’s not entirely clear why exactly DJI was added to the list, but some suggest that it was DJI’s reported work for the Chinese government. Others have suggested DJI is involved in potential human rights violations. Throw in the fact that the U.S. government has long been worried about federal agencies using drones by foreign drone makers. For example, a 2017 U.S. Army notice prohibited its troops from using DJI drones because of cyber-security concerns. Then, a proposed executive order sought to ban all federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones. With all that combined, you have a lot of people dubious of DJI.

Of course, the challenge is that DJI is undeniably the biggest drone maker in the world. And depending on who you ask, it’s generally seen as the best. DJI’s drones are popular among a wide swath of people. That includes folks new to drones looking for a low-cost aerial camera, small business owners, and even major law enforcement agencies.

It’s for those reasons that many wonder what to do about their collection of DJI drones. And then there’s the question of whether they should buy more. A lot of people have (and frequently use) DJI drones. They don’t want to completely change their gear kit to a different company!

And a lot of people getting into drones for the first time still are considering buying a DJI drone. But still, it’s worth considering if pros like low cost and ease of use still outweigh the con: the China blacklist.

The China blacklist is not a ban on DJI products

Contrary to what some may have you believe, DJI’s products have not been completely banned from sale in the U.S.

“Instead, the list and related sanctions are made to limit ‘exports, re-exports and transfers’ to these companies, not the purchase of a listed companies’ products,” according to a post from drone industry analyst (and former DJI employee) David Benowitz, who is primarily known for his annual Drone Market Sector report. “This will limit DJI’s abilities to procure US-made technology and components that its products rely on. “

Instead, it means that DJI might have trouble procuring parts made from U.S. suppliers. That could include the FLIR thermal cameras used in drones such as the DJI XT2, or vision chips made by companies such as Intel and Ambarella.

That said, DJI products could end up being banned in the U.S. down the road, due to legislation such as the Countering CCP Drones Act, among others (more on that later).

What DJI’s spot on the blacklist means for you:

DJI says you don’t need to worry about changes on your end as a consumer.

“DJI is disappointed in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision”, a representative of the company said in an emailed statement. “Customers in America can continue to buy and use DJI products normally.”

We suggest though that things might change a little bit, and you shouldn’t assume you can buy products 100% normally. Here’s why:

DJI products may go out of stock (and might take a while to be restocked)

If DJI cannot procure parts from American suppliers, it may turn to new suppliers. That means, in the period between suppliers, you might see certain DJI products delayed for shipping as the current stock runs out and DJI takes time to replace it. It might also mean that some items go out of stock for good, should DJI not find an adequate alternate supplier.

security vulnerabilities DJI drones
The FLIR C360 Muve gas detector easily integrates with the DJI Matrice 210 drone. That combo has been used by public safety agencies including the Los Angeles Fire Department.

If there are specific items you need, we suggest buying them now. If you’re constantly replacing batteries, we recommend buying a few extra than usual. That’s a hedge in case the ability to replace your Phantom 4 Series Intelligent Flight Battery goes away. Or if you were considering picking up a Zenmuse XT2, to pair specifically with the FLIR Tau 2 thermal sensor, do it now. Future sensors might not necessarily come from FLIR.

DJI products may get more expensive

With changes in supplier inevitably comes changes in cost, not just in terms of cost of products themselves, but may entail tariffs that may come from DJI purchasing parts from different countries.

Potential reasons not to buy a DJI drone since the China blacklist

With the high level of anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly around DJI, this may be the biggest reason not to buy a DJI drone: your clients may not want you to.

The U.S. Army won’t use DJI drones, and other federal agencies have followed suit. That’s also being extended into other private industries. If you’re a small business owner using drones to provide, say, mapping services for an oil company, that oil company might specifically say you cannot use a DJI drone. If that’s you, consider buying a drone made in America, such as the Skydio 2.

DJI drones don’t fit the FAR Buy American Act requirements

Though the FAR Buy American Act actually applies to very few people, it might apply to you.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)’s Buy American Act was created to boost domestic supply chains and decrease reliance on foreign-made goods. Sure, it’s unlikely every part of the drone would be made in America (e.g. screws could be made in Mexico). But, this act now sets a threshold for how much of the product (based on cost value) needs to have been made in America. As of 2024, 65% of the product’s value must have been made in America. That figure increases to 70% in 2029.

The rules only apply to a slim minority of drone buyers though. For example, drones purchased with a federal grant generally must meet that threshold, but even there are all sorts of waivers and exceptions from the obligation to “Buy American.” That includes an exception if the U.S.-made version is not available at what’s considered a ‘reasonable’ cost.

Congress continues to make efforts to ban drones

Sure, this blacklist isn’t a ban — but that doesn’t mean politicians don’t want to ban DJI. Proposed legislation could ban DJI products going forward.

Most notable among them? That’s H.R. 2864, also known as the “Countering CCP Drones Act.”  Introduced by Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) in April 2023, the controversial bill proposes a wide-ranging ban on drones manufactured by DJI. The current state of the bill only applies to new DJI drones, meaning those you already own wouldn’t be affected.

Given how extreme an outright ban would be, I don’t actually anticipate the law would pass. The Countering CCP Drones Act has major negative implications for not just drone pilots but also small businesses and even taxpayers.

And for what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like Stefanik believes it’ll pass either. That’s because, in May 2024, she introduced another, more moderate piece of legislation aimed at blocking DJI. Called the  Drones for First Responders (DFR) Act, it would implement a 30% tariff on Chinese-made drones. After that initial 30% tariff, tariffs would then increase by 5% annually. Additionally, the DFR Act would ban importation of drones that contain what the U.S. government considers ‘critical components’ that are made in China by 2030.

Though the law also has its critics, it’s far more reasonable than the outright ban from the Countering CCP Drones Act.

As far as why buying DJI does make sense…

As far as small photography business owners, or people simply using drones for fun, DJI drones still are generally the best drones for photography. And it doesn’t stop there. The company’s products are generally seen as the best drones for agriculture, among many other commercial use cases.

Oh, and there’s one more reason to buy one DJI drone in particular: the Mini 2.  The FAA announced a new Remote ID rule in 20202. The rule requires that drones weighing 250 grams or more will have to be capable of being remotely identified in order to fly. The DJI Mavic Miniweighs 249 grams exactly — and that’s not a coincidence. Besides fitting under the threshold for Remote ID, that’s 1 gram short of the Federal Aviation Administration’s threshold for whether recreational pilots need to register your drone with the government.

Many people were opposed to the Remote ID rule, stating that they don’t want the government tracking their drone flights. But hey, it went into effect. Most DJI drones have built-in Remote ID modules. Happily, at least you don’t need to buy a separate Remote ID module.

Related read: Drones made in the USA: the American drone companies you need to know

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One Comment

  • Chet hughes says:

    I bought two DJI drones that are still returnable for the next month. Is there any risk of the DJI app that controls them being shut down or them being made otherwise inoperable? Thank you

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