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Is DJI Blacklisted?

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

You may have seen on your social media feeds that DJI was added to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Entity List. Many of the headlines are calling it a "Blacklist," but that isn't entirely accurate. For some context, DJI is by far the largest manufacturer of commercial drones commanding 75% of the market. They are a China-based firm that produces the very familiar Mavic, Phantom and Matric series drones. The list does NOT band the drone from being bought, sold, or used in the U.S. What it does do is limit the sale of U.S. components to DJI, which it uses to manufacture its products. This will undoubtedly create short-term supply chain issues for the drone manufacturing giant, but it isn't easy to know exactly how much. DJI keeps who their suppliers are close to the vest, and most are based in China anyway. However, we know that some of their flight control chips and their Flir thermal cameras are from the U.S.

The reason for the ban is mainly two-fold. There have been longstanding concerns about DJI funneling domestic drone data to the Chinese government or 3rd party bad actors. Many don't see that as an issue but let me give you one use case. As you may know, I work with the SCDOT to use drones to inspect bridges. I take hundreds of pictures of bridges, and in the metadata is the G.P.S. location and camera angle. Most bridges are publicly available so what’s the big deal? If you think about it though, I'm not collecting hundreds of images of the "good" parts. I'm taking pictures of the damaged and potentially weakest parts of the asset. It doesn't take long to think of what can be done with that data by bad people. Let’s be clear. I haven’t heard of any reporting to suggest that the data has been compromised by DJI or anyone else but the potential is there. The second reason they were listed was because DJI "enables wide-scale human rights abuses within China," says the commerce department. Human rights abuse is a new concern and may be liked to drone use to surveil detention camps in the Xinjiang province.

Bottom line, there are no restrictions on being able to buy a DJI drone, plus there are tons still in inventory. That inventory will give DJI time to react and adjust their supply chain. Plus U.S. suppliers may be able to apply for licenses to again sell to them. In the short term, there may be some price increases. The long term benefit may be for more U.S. based companies to enter the market, putting downward pressure on pricing due to added competition.

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