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US drone ban puts lives at risk, says DJI

There’s an ongoing debate in democratic countries as to the wisdom of having Chinese-owned telecommunications components market leader Huawei supply the much-heralded ‘Internet of Everything’ via 5G technology, which has a parallel in the recent exchanges between the US government and miniature drone/quadcopter behemoth DJI.

DJI Phantom 4 Advanced

While SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, a private Chinese company, has been seen as a model of co-operation by many national aviation authorities, including our own CASA, it is experiencing strong push-back in the US. The latest move, from the US Interior Department, is the grounding its fleet of about 800 ‘Chinese-made’ (ie, DJI) drones. The US military had already slapped a ban on personnel using DJI drones.

Global spending on unmanned miniature drones (as opposed to the large unmanned aircraft manufactured by the likes of Lockheed) is estimated by IDC at over $18 billion dollars. With DJI’s market share in drones at anything up to 85 percent, it dominates the miniature drone market, with daylight second. This corporate miracle has been achieved in less than a decade, and, whether by coincidence or otherwise, is in line with China’s objective of being the world leader in drones and robotics by 2025.

In late January, US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt confirmed the temporary cessation of non-emergency drone operations to ensure ‘cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed’. He also banned the purchase of any more Chinese manufactured (once again, ie, DJI) drones.

The drones will be allowed for emergency purposes, such as ‘fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and dealing with natural disasters that may threaten life or property.’

This follows an alert by the Department of Homeland Security last May regarding Chinese-manufactured (ie, etc) drones: ‘The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access. Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.’

It should be noted that has been no proof of DJI providing unfettered (or even fettered) access to any data from DJI customers, and DJI itself denies it is even possible but, as with Huawei, the concern is that Chinese law requires compliance by Chinese companies with People’s Republic of China (Chinese Communist Party) demands.

The two pieces of legislation which China critics point to are the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law. Article 7 of the 2017 law states ‘any organisation or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law,’ – and will be protected for doing so.

The 2014 Counter-Espionage law says that ‘when the state security organ investigates and understands the situation of espionage and collects relevant evidence, the relevant organizations and individuals shall provide it truthfully and may not refuse.’

DJI, like Huawei claims it doesn’t currently (‘automatically’) do what it is being accused of having the potential to do. ‘DJI drones do not share flight logs, photos or videos unless the drone pilot deliberately chooses to do so,’ stated DJI North American vice president and country manager, Mario Rebello. ‘They do not automatically send flight data to China or anywhere else. They do not automatically transmit photos or videos over the internet. This data stays solely on the drone and on the pilot’s mobile device. DJI cannot share customer data it never receives.’ (China sceptics might mimic Christine Keeler (Google it) in responding, ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’)

DJI has responded fairly feistily to the grounding of the Interior Department’s drone fleet. In a statement titled How the US Department of Interior’s New Drone Policy Hurts America, DJI says hat it is ‘extremely disappointed’ and that the Department ‘inappropriately treats a technology’s country of origin as a litmus test for its performance, security and reliability.’ And not only that, people could die: ‘It is an alarming, politically driven decision that puts lives and property at risk.’

In a classic example of ‘pot, kettle black’ it further stated that the US Government concerns are basically protectionist, and have ‘little to do with security and are instead part of a politically-motivated agenda to reduce market competition and support domestically produced drone technology, regardless of its merits.’

And as is the case with Huawei, there are other democratic jurisdictions such as Australia, the UK and the EU that are more relaxed and comfortable with DJI. The German Interior and Transport ministries don’t take the manufacturer’s country of origin into account when procuring or using drones. It’s all about the specs: ‘Regardless of the origin, drones to be procured must meet the relevant IT security requirements and the basic requirements for safe use in German airspace,’ the Interior Ministry is reported as stating.

Reciprocating the more approving attitude in Europe, DJI has given the new European Union drone regulations a gold star. In a recent statement DJI noted that: ‘We at DJI put a lot of effort into advocating for the new EU drone regulations to spread increased safety and open more possibilities for innovative drone use across member nations. We’re glad that this new framework does just that, and we look forward to the ways that individuals and organizations can take advantage of them.’

DJI particularly likes the idea that the EU regulations it has worked on will ultimately trump any individual EU country’s existing regulations.

DJI is now lobbying for a similar light touch when it comes to the looming requirement of ‘Remote ID’ – a kind of digital licence plate –  for drones in the US and elsewhere, including Australia. In a detailed article published this month on the DJI website, it outlines how DJI drone-owning US citizens can and should submit comments on the FAA’s (Federal Aviation Authority) proposed Remote ID rules. It doesn’t seem to be all too keen on the initiative: ‘Remote ID is something that could impose ongoing costs and burdens on users and potentially compromise their privacy,’ it states, going on to outline the type of objections DJI users might like to think about making, and the best way to make them.

Meanwhile, in Australia, CASA has postponed introduction of a compulsory drone registration scheme to April 1, having slipped a couple of deadlines. More on that next week.
















One Comment

  1. David Smith David Smith March 26, 2021

    I made living from Aviation industry till 2004.
    My mother was in the 99’s and was Flight instructor I was her first student for both VFR and IFR. My father was in the EAA and brother was a pilot in Vietnam flew 3 tours. We all built models at one point in our lives. Sorry for any typos as writing on Chemotherapy at this time.

    Asking to increase the weight limit to 2.2 pounds/1kg for Designers and Hobbyist instead current of 0.55/250 grams Using soft materials as in balsa wood and foam. This type of material crustes down witch absorbs the energy.

    This to help to new generation of Aviators and engineers and older generations to still design there own models.

    Now I will say protection from plastic spy drones is simple the FCC has the law on there side.
    No new law is need, just band transmission of camera from drone unless you have a license and a background check.

    The RID has nothing to do with safety.
    As FAA has said it is a license plate. Use for compliments not safety. The RC hobby had been very safe for over 100 yeas. Starting with Nickels TESLA in 1898.

    A) If the FAA use a transponder that would low the altitude clearing air space for full size aircraft and helicopter.
    This also can be a simple radio frequency transmitter by a public event to bring down or take over the drones violations.
    B) The licensing and RID would not be need unless it was for commercial/paid work and or camera on the drone
    C) A weight limit of 2.2 pounds/1kg for Hobbyist instead of 0.55 pound limit. The first .55 pounds is for all hard materials. The balance of materials must be balsa, foam and or flexible covering materials.
    D) Using the correct for calculations taking in materials use in the hobby.

    Formula used by FAA does not take in hardest of materials and how built.

    This formula does not take soft materials like balsa and form or the crushing of materials.
    KE = kinetic energy
    m = mass of a body
    v = velocity of a body
    Ek = ½mv²
    Below is the change in law requested. This can used for drones too. Freeing up the FAA to keep full size aircraft safe.
    A simple certification at cost of 1 hour of federal minimum wage ever 10 years, no cost over 65 both needs update with email addresse, cell phone and current address must have charged cell phone any time you fly. All information must be updated with 20 days. Using the driver license/ID card supply by the state and over 16 years of age. Under 250 grams classified as a toy.
    Quick list what you can and can not do with the certification.
    1) Only for Hobbies/Recreation uses and aircrafts and or drones label with certification number.
    2) No real time cameras
    3) Only fly daylight hours in good weather for location.
    4) Building/construction materials for model aircraft design and using balsa wood and foam over 250 grams and under 1KG.
    Propeller nose cone made of metal , fiberglass and or plastic must have at least 0.12″ R. 3.2 mm R.
    No metal propeller only wood or plastic with a minimum of .031″ R .8mm R. All other leading edge must made of balsa wood or foam and or flexible coverings.
    All hard materials including radio gear, metal, plasic and or power motor must be under 0.55 pounds 250 grams.
    5) Fly line of sight only up to maximum of 1.1 miles 1.77 KM
    6) Per fly check as listed by manufacturer and FAA check list.
    7) Do not fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace. Check on B4UFLY to find the airspace Class and follow the instructions.
    8) Respect Privacy including stadium’s, public locations may include parks. Never fly over and or near humans.
    9) Never fly near othe aircraft/Drons (200 feet 61 meters apart)
    10) All way have cell phone with FAA emergencies app and Local emergencies app installed and running with GPS for location. If the alerts goes off you must land.
    11) Never fly under influence of alcohol and or drugs as stated by state law.
    12) All ways follow orders by Law enforcement, emergency services and or fire department (it may include use your drone and or flying by or for emergency services).

    • Definition of Model Aircraft
    Built from tradition building materials (wood and or foam with covering)
    Does not need a gyro to fly
    Fix wing design .
    Typically made at home
    Does not have camera to fly.
    Flies line of sight only.
    This would simple for average model flyer and builder.
    I) Using internet for regulations using the state driver license/ID card.
    II) The online certification would have 12 to 16 boxes.
    III) Each time a box the next box and statement appears with a 12 second delay be for you check the box.
    IV) The certification number would have State postal 2 letter code then a 12 digital indicator the owner.
    V) Lawenforsment can excess certification number owners.
    VI) The certification number would place both inside on battery and outside in 14 to 20pt on Helvetica print Black and White water prof sticker (no ink jet printer)

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