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

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.

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.

Few (if any) affordable products worth flying

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.

Most of the other drones under $1,000 that aren’t made by DJI aren’t even worth it, period. For example, we reviewed the Blackhawk 3 Pro drone and found it to not only be a poor user experience, but some critical functions like follow-me mode barely worked.

With a potential DJI bans, the options for camera drones — particularly affordable ones — would be bleak.

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 for non-DJI drones, 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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6 Comments

  • Yves Morier says:

    Thank you for this thorough and interesting article.
    The suggestion you make of creating a licensing system is what EU plans to do in its EU drone Strategy 2.0.
    One of the flagship actions is to create a criteria for EU trusted drones. It is targeting cyber resilience but it could be an idea to follow:
    It is flagship action 19 that can be found on paragraph 97 page 21 towards the end of the document in the link below
    https://transport.ec.europa.eu/document/download/1cb5fb4f-4252-4f97-abf4-c4a167b1c7d2_en?filename=COM_2022_652_drone_strategy_2.0.pdf
    I wish you a good first of May
    All the very best,
    Yves

  • Ed Bush says:

    Your solutions make sense, even common sense. But the pendulum never stops in the middle.

  • Vic Moss says:

    Thank you Sally! I’d add that joining Drone Advocacy Alliance (droneadvocacyalliance.com) is a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on in DC and state legislatures.

    Great article. Thanks!

  • Jim Willson says:

    I wish stop referring to hobbyist being the main consumer of DJI products. That is exactly what my congressman threw back into my face – “When it comes between a hobby and national security, national security wins.” The number one headline for articles about this act needs to be “90% of all commercial, UAS small businesses will be grounded and most will end up closing their doors permanently.” Ground DJI creates an overnight supply and demand crisis. There are not enough producers of non-CCP drones, without CCP parts. The backlog will skyrocket, along with prices, overnight. Most small business will not be able to afford a drone if they could find one available. Infrastructure inspections will go back to more hazardous human performed inspections. The loss of the beneficial aspects of drone will far outweigh the threat, which they have never clearly defined, especially in terms of likelihood that their fears will be manifested. They’re just assuming that it will happen.

  • Dennis says:

    I don’t believe this completely,,, we dome fine before drones and we will and can survive fine without them, Or cell phones for that matter. Inspections may be hazardous but are still done today without drone. I am a drone pilot have several drones including dji, and i like my dji drones but im also a US Marine combat veteran 2 tours to active war and I love my country more so bye bye DJI.

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