House passes NDAA FY25 defense bill, moving controversial drone act to Senate

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA FY25) on Friday, a move that also advances a controversial provision targeting China: the Countering CCP Drones Act. This act, embedded within the NDAA, now heads to the Senate, raising concerns for the future of American drone pilots.

The $883.7 billion NDAA FY25 defense bill was in what was a tight 217 to 199 vote, which largely fell along party lines. 196 Democrats opposed the bill and just six supported it. Meanwhile, Republicans came in with 211 votes in favor, and only three against it.

The bill covers a range of topics and had all sorts of amendments. Some are quite specific to the military such as funding for Ukraine. Others cover less military-sepcific topics like drag shows and abortion.

The topic that the drone industry has been closely watching, though? A potential ban on DJI drones, as well as other drones made in China. That’s through a piece within NDAA FY25 called the Countering CCP Drones Act.

All eyes on the Countering CCP Drones Act

The Countering CCP Drones Act aims to limit DJI drones by adding DJI to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Covered List. In doing so, future DJI technologies would be unable to operate on U.S. communications infrastructure.

DJI drones are massively popular among both hobbysits and enterprise operations for their affordability and ease of use, but some politicians have leaned into fears that these Chinese-made drones pose security risks.

Meanwhile, many drone pilot advocates worry the act could have unintended consequences. Replacing a large number of existing drones would be expensive and time-consuming. More importantly, some fear the switch to potentially less user-friendly American alternatives would make operations more difficult — and render their existing fleets potentially moot (it’s not clear whether the ban would only apply to new drones versus existing ones too). Drone pilots looking to expand their fleets are grappling with whether they should even buy a DJI drone.

Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) introduced the controversial bill in the House in April 2023.

“DJI drones pose the national security threat of TikTok, but with wings,” Stefanik said. “The possibility that DJI drones could be equipped to send live imagery of military installations, critical infrastructure, and the personal lives of American citizens to China poses too great a threat. Allowing this practice to continue in the U.S. is playing with fire. This Chinese-controlled company cannot be allowed to continue to operate in the U.S.”

Will NDAA FY25 pass in the Senate?

The act’s fate in the Senate remains uncertain. But for what it’s worth, Republicans hold a majority in the U.S. House, where the NDAA FY25 bill overwhelmingly passed. Meanwhile, Democrats — and independents who caucus with Democrats — hold a majority in the U.S. Senate.

Given that, the House’s version of the bill could have a tougher time passing there. After all, while some lawmakers share concerns about Chinese drone security risks, others might prioritize the cost-effectiveness of existing technology. Additionally, the tight budget constraints outlined in the NDAA could lead to a scaling back or removal of the act entirely.

As is typical, the Senate is working on their own version of the NDAA FY25 legislation. In fact, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a full committee markup last week for the NDAA FY25, advancing legislation to the Senate floor for consideration. The Senate version includes an even-higher figure of $912 billion in funding for the national defense of the U.S.

Both the House and Senate versions far exceed the bipartisan debt ceiling agreement.

As for what’s next? The Senate will then need to pass its own version of the NDAA FY25 bill. From there, House and Senate leaders will negotiate a compromise bill.

Often, controversial measures — like the Countering CCP Drones Act — end up getting stripped out or heavily modified in order to pass both chambers — and to avoid President Joe Biden potentially vetoing the bill.

But that’s not to say the bill doesn’t still have a chance at passing. And if it does, it could significantly upend the drone industry as we know it.

3 Comments

  • 06/17/2024

    Hi, Follow Commercial Drone Pilot
    This is why I argue against banning DJI drones and why new ones shouldn’t be banned. Market Dominance: DJI currently controls around 70% of the global drone market share. Banning DJI drones would significantly reduce the number of available drones for consumers and businesses. Security Concerns: While there are concerns about Chinese government surveillance, it’s essential to recognize that existing DJI drones in the U.S. wouldn’t be affected by the ban. The focus is on prohibiting future sales. Additionally, the legislative push may stem from fearmongering and misinformation about DJI’s security protocols. Economic Impact: Banning DJI drones could impact the American drone industry. Supporting an American drone business (there drone is more expensive for what you get) would be ideal, but outright banning DJI might not be the best solution. Remember, the ban isn’t finalized yet, and senators still need to act. If you feel strongly about this, consider reaching out to your senator to express your views. Let’s hope for a balanced approach that considers both security and innovation!

  • Thank you congress for doing what no domestic manufacturer had the tech to do, by legislation other than RICO breaking up the largest monopoly DJI and clearing the table for US drone…. time to look for consumer drone companies on the come and buy some shares! Wait creating Jobs in the US??? and this isn’t even a Republican Administration! lol. Not consumers voting with their dollars but the good old socialist method of simple legislation. I’m kidding but it does create an opportunity to prove this country has fresh ideas, besides ripping off everything from comics to muscle car themes from 50 years ago. We can do it, thank you Congress!

  • I own 2 DJI drones. I fly my drones as a hobby. I seldom fly over 200 feet and my drones are within my eye sight. I enjoy making videos of my family and I also enjoy recording videos of creeks that come from aquifers and flow to the Rio Grande River. I will hopefully video tape a trip to see pictographs of ancient inhabitants. I’m 80 years old and it would tear my heart out to lose this hobby. I am an Amateur Radio Operator and I enjoy that, too. However, piloting my drones bring me great contentment. I am careful where I fly and I practice safe flying. I am a Chaplain at a prison. Why should I be punished for the possibility of someone else flying over military facilities. I saved my money and scrapped to find the $700 for my second drone. I can’t afford a $5,000 or $7,000 drone. Stefanik and Gallagher are on my bad list because they are stepping on the lower middle class citizens without cause.

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