H.R. 2864 The “DJI Done Ban” and the future of the Unmanned Aircraft Industry in the United States.

Jul 5, 2024

The unmanned aircraft industry in the United States, once quite small, has grown to become an essential part of the nation’s aviation workforce and infrastructure. By the end of 2023, unmanned aircraft operations accounted for $5.85 billion of the nation’s economy. It is forecasted that by 2033, the unmanned aircraft industry will grow to reach a market impact of $14.11 billion. Exactly how large is the unmanned aircraft, or “drone,” industry in the United States? As of May 31st, 2024, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that there are 782,203 total drones registered. Of those, 392,468 are used for recreational purposes, and 383,302 are utilized for commercial operations. Additionally, there are 392,468 Remote Pilots (FAA Part 107 Certified) to operate commercial drones in the United States.

The company Shenzhen Da-Jiang Innovations, more commonly known as DJI Technologies, accounts for more than 70% of the global market for unmanned aircraft production and sales. In the United States, DJI aircraft account for over 77% of the total market share, or roughly 602,296 operational aircraft. These DJI aircraft perform essential functions across a wide range of industries from construction to search and rescue, aerial surveying, mapping, roofing inspections, power-line and pipeline inspection, firefighting, first responders, and law enforcement. Why does DJI account for 77% of the U.S. drone market? Quite simply, DJI produces versatile and advanced unmanned aircraft that consistently and reliably “get the job done.”

House Resolution 2864 – The Countering CCP Drones Act, also known as the “DJI Drone Ban,” seeks to add Shenzhen Da-Jiang Innovations (widely known as DJI Technologies) to the list of companies whose products pose a threat to national security. This bill has been attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the Fiscal Year 2025 and was passed in the House of Representatives on June 16, 2024. The legislation still has to go to the Senate, and a vote is not expected until December.

The Countering CCP Drones Act (H.R. 2864) accuses DJI drones of providing data on critical infrastructure to the Chinese Communist Party. Allegedly, this is accomplished by the aircraft collecting and transmitting data to DJI Technologies, which then funnels it directly to the Chinese Government. As a veteran of the United States Army, the author takes accusations of national security seriously. It is important to understand, though, that as of the date of this writing, no credible evidence has been presented publicly to support the accusations levied by H.R. 2864. Current evidence actually supports an opposite reality. Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security-sensitive facilities. Operations are prohibited from the ground up to 400 feet above ground level and apply to all types and purposes of UAS flight operations.

Examples of national security-sensitive areas may include:

  • Military Bases designated as Department of Defense Facilities
  • Nuclear Power Plants
  • Railway Systems
  • Dams and Hydroelectric Power Plants
  • Restricted and Prohibited Airspace
  • National Landmarks

Federal regulations restrict UAS operations near and above these areas, and law-abiding UAS pilots adhere to those operational limitations. The argument could be made that non-law-abiding individuals would still seek to fly and collect data from these areas. Modern technology called “GeoFencing” exists to enforce compliance of UAS operating near many of the nation’s critical areas. Geofencing interrupts the signal from the controller and disables the aircraft’s ability to fly near critical areas. If on the ground, the aircraft may power up but will not allow engine start for flight. If the aircraft is launched further out from a facility but is flown towards a designated area, the aircraft will slow and hover in place. If the momentum of the aircraft in flight is at a speed that carries it into a designated area, the aircraft runs the risk of complete and immediate shutdown while in flight. Regulation, combined with technologically enforced compliance, makes it difficult for UAS to collect the “data” that is the primary concern of H.R. 2864.

In 2019, when U.S. lawmakers were increasingly expressing concern over data collection, DJI released a “government edition” aircraft. The onboard technology prevented any data from leaving the drone at any time, thereby eliminating the risk of data interception or collection of sensitive material from an outside source or agency. This seemed to be a direct and immediate solution to government and lawmakers’ concerns over DJI Technologies and their aircraft. In June of 2024, DJI also removed Flight Sync, which was a part of the application pilots used to sync their aircraft data for maintenance and fleet management. Yet now in 2024, H.R. 2864 exists, expressing the same concerns now, as back in 2019. 

Why are DJI aircraft so important to the drone industry in the United States? No other drone manufacturer produces aircraft capable of completing the work DJI aircraft perform in the production numbers needed to sustain the industry. Most U.S.-built drones are specialized aircraft produced in small numbers. The author looks forward to the day when American drone companies produce highly capable aircraft in large production numbers to sustain the needs and demands of the U.S. drone industry.

Unfortunately, if the “DJI Drone Ban” passes, it is estimated that 170,000+ drone service provider businesses will cease to exist. Aircraft fleets will be grounded, and DSP businesses will be unable to serve their clients’ needs. American-made drones could not be built in the production numbers, (several hundred thousand units) that would be immediately needed to replace the national fleet of drones deployed in our airspace. A $5.5 billion industry would be devastated and take years to recover. The drone industry in the United States would likely emerge as a shadow of what it is today. It is the author’s hope that lawmakers in the United States take a long hard look at H.R. 2864 and similar legislation that is being presented in our state and federal government chambers. As a Drone Service Provider in Texas, South Plains Aerial Imaging looks forward to a solution that safeguards the national defense interests of the United States, prevents the implosion of the national drone industry, and allows drone service providers across the United States to keep serving our clients for many years to come.


***UPDATE*** 11Jul2024

The Senate Armed Services Committee, released its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2025, and the Countering CCP Drones Act has been excluded from its language. This action represents a more judicious approach by Senate legislators to address the concerns of National Defense, without destroying an indispensable $5.5 billion dollar industry in the United States. If passed by the full Senate, both the House and Senate versions would have to be reconciled before being signed into law. The CCP Drone Act could be subsequently reintroduced, or versions of the restrictions revisited during the reconciliation process. Although, this is not a guaranteed removal of the “DJI Ban” from future legislation, the author does feel this is a step in the right direction to take a more diligent look at the drone industry in the United States. It is the authors hope that this approach may address “alleged” concerns without destroying the livelihoods of so many Americans and their businesses.