Advocacy group forms to fight bans on certain drone companies — with one key player

There’s a new, non-partisan group lobbying for the drone industry, and one of the founding partners is perhaps the biggest name in drones: DJI. The Drone Advocacy Alliance announced its formation this week as a “a coalition dedicated to protecting the right of American drone users to choose and use their drones.”

In short, DJI (and other companies partnering within the alliance) doesn’t like the relatively recent bout of legislation that could bans federal agencies from using its products, or otherwise inhibit the Chinese-based company from growing within the U.S.

While DJI is the biggest name on the list of initial partners participating in the Drone Advocacy Alliance, other partners include Blue Nose Aerial Imaging, Dronelink, DroneSense, the Drone Service Providers Alliance (DSPA), the Pilot Institute and the Uncrewed Trade Alliance. But DJI also holds perhaps the biggest hand in the alliance, as the group is sponsored by (and its website maintained by) DJI.

“Recent proposals and legislation at both the state and federal level have attempted to restrict access to certain drones based simply on where they are manufactured,” according to a prepared statement from the Drone Advocacy Alliance. “These proposals threaten to upend the American drone ecosystem, including software providers, resellers, distributors and countless end-users who have incorporated drones into their work.”

Examples of such legislation include the American Security Drone Act, which is a bill proposed in February 2023 by Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida. That act would prohibit most federal agencies from using drones from certain countries, which includes drones manufactured in China (which is many drones, including DJI drones). There are a few exceptions, such as that agencies can obtain a waiver, and a few specific agencies like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have even broader exceptions.

Critics of that act have said it would only make the government’s cost of doing business higher (which in turn hurts taxpayers, who’d be paying for pricier American-made drones). That might be debatable, but what’s clear is such an act would negatively impact the bottom line of Chinese drone makers like DJI.

Other legislation that has made things difficult for companies like DJI is the Countering CCP Drones Act which was introduced in February 2022 by Republican Representative Elise M. Stefanik of New York. That bill would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to add DJI to what’s called a “Covered List.” If DJI were added to that list, the FCC would no longer be able to approve new equipment authorizations for DJI products in the U.S. while potentially revoking existing authorizations, which could ground current DJI drones and those to come.

What’s ahead for the Drone Advocacy Alliance

The Drone Advocacy Alliance launched in July 2023 with a website that offers tools to better understand the state of current drone laws, as well as offering action items, like encouraging others in the drone industry to contact legislators to voice their concerns about how the proposed legislation could impact them.

The website includes pre-drafted messages that interested people can send to lawmakers.

The group comes at a critical time for drones, as some industry advocates have feared that proposed drone market access restrictions at the state and federal level could upend the burgeoning drone ecosystem, which for a long time has been dominated by relatively low-cost, Chinese-made drones.

Much of that kicked off in 2017, when the U.S. Army temporarily banned its teams from using DJI drones because of cyber-security concerns. A couple years later, the Department of the Interior in October 2019 said it would stop using any drones made in China or made with Chinese parts. And at one point in 2020, then-President Trump prepared an executive order to ban all federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones, citing a risk to national security. 

While those have all impacted solely federal agencies, that’s not to say it hasn’t impacted the private sector. In fact, many private organizations have suggested or implemented bans on drones made from anything other that American drone companies, likely to follow those government precedents.

While the number of American drone companies is lengthy, what’s far from lengthy is the number of American drone companies that sell products that can compete on price with companies like DJI. Both camera drones and controllers made in America are tough to come by. And good luck finding any American-made drone under $500.

The Drone Advocacy Alliance website also contains a form where you can fill out your contact information to get periodic updates on drone-related legislation. You can sign up here.

What do you think about the Drone Advocacy Alliance? Leave your comments below!

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