JOUAV Unveils Next-Gen VTOL Hangar JOS-C800 at Drone World Congress 2024

New “drone-in-a-box” solution aims to optimize automated aerial operations. At the 8th Drone World Congress 2024, civil drone manufacturer JOUAV introduced its latest advancement in VTOL hangar drone technology, the JOS-C800. This second-generation “drone-in-a-box” solution is set to improve fully-automated drone operations across various industries, offering a smarter and more versatile approach to routine aerial […]

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Altitude Angel Partners with Twente Airport and Space53 to Revolutionize Drone Operations in Dutch Airspace

Integration of Approval Services Platform Enables Seamless, Digital Flight Requests and Enhanced Safety for Manned and Unmanned Aircraft Altitude Angel, a Reading, UK-based Universal Traffic Management (UTM) provider focused on integrating drones and other UAVs into international airspace, recently announced that they’d partnered with the Twente Airport and the Space53 drone innovation cluster to start […]

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Ecom Express and Skye Air Partner to Revolutionize Last-Mile Delivery in India

Collaboration to Enhance Efficiency and Sustainability in Logistics Ecom Express Limited, a technology-driven logistics solutions provider, and Skye Air, a specialist in drone technology, have announced a strategic partnership aimed at transforming last-mile delivery solutions. This collaboration seeks to leverage Ecom Express’ extensive network and automation capabilities with Skye Air’s advanced drone delivery technology. Both […]

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In the Wake of FAA Reauthorization, Drone Delivery Companies Plan Expansion

DroneUp Plans Major U.S. Expansion After FAA Reauthorization Boosts Drone Industry By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill DroneUp, one of the largest drone delivery companies in the U.S., will likely expand its operations as a direct result of the passage of the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, Anthony Vittone, the company’s COO said […]

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House Republicans propose tariffs on Chinese drones in name of first responders

First responders certainly use drones — and some U.S. Republicans want to make it so they’re not using Chinese-made drones. New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in May 2024 introduced the Drones for First Responders (DFR) Act. But, the DFR Act doesn’t have as much to do with first responders as it has to do with raising taxes on Chinese-made drones, like those made by DJI.

The meat of the DFR Act entails implementing a new, 30% tariff on drones made in China. On top of that initial 30% tariff, the Act would also hike tariffs by 5% annually. In addition, the DFR Act would ban the importation of drones that contain what it deems certain, critical components that are made in China by 2030.

What does this all have to do with public safety? Tariff revenue would be then used for a grant program designed to help first responders. The text also suggests it could grant funding to other critical drone users such as farmers and infrastructure inspectors. Those grants would purchase drones that are specifically not made in China.

It’s all a move to promote American-made drone companies, while trying to prevent dominance of Chinese-made companies. Stefanik said the motivations were two-fold. The first centers around increasing the competitiveness of U.S. drone manufacturers. 

It also promotes political desires to eliminate use of Chinese drones. Politicians have suggested that such a move would enhance U.S. national security. That’s because fewer drone means less data gathered on Chinese-made drones, which some say is accessible by the Chinese government.

For its part, DJI says it does not automatically share its data with the Chinese government. “Your data is stored safely on your drone and in the DJI mobile app you use to control it, and you decide whether to share it with anyone,” according to a 2020 statement from DJI, which it put out in tandem with a guide on enabling its data privacy and security methods.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) joins former President Trump during a campaign rally in New Hampshire. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. government steps in to combat DJI’s monopoly 

An estimated 90% of drones operated by U.S. first responders in 2024 are made in China, according to Stefanik. DJI makes most of those, though other Chinese-made drones used by first responders include the Autel EVO II Dual. DJI’s rise to dominance has largely been attributed to heavy subsidies from the Chinese government. Some speculate DJI has benefited from direct government investment. On top of that, favorable regulations allowed DJI to undercut U.S. drone manufacturers.

Stefanik calls these things “unfair trade practices.”

And sure, many attribute the failure of American drone companies like 3D Robotics and GoPro to the fact that they just could not compete on price. Then again, many drone experts also largely agree that the products build by those companies suffered from significant technical issues. They say it’s the tech failures that resulted in weak sales — not the price point.

What happens if we impose tariffs on Chinese drones?

Stefanik’s priority with the bill? It’s a response to circumstances that “have allowed CCP-controlled drone companies to monopolize the U.S. drone market,” according to a statement about the DFR Act.

Could eliminate security threats

There is some concern that DJI drones are a threat to national security. A tariff that at least makes DJI drones more expensive could certainly do something to cut back on buyers’ decisions to purchase DJI drones over another brand. For example, the Department of Defense (DoD) has said it believes that DJI is actively advancing the military capabilities of the Chinese government. Both a 2017 Homeland Security Intelligence Bulletin and a 2024 CISA industry alert have claimed that Chinese drones present significant risks to U.S. critical infrastructure and national security. Additionally, the DoD prohibits the U.S. military from operating PRC-drones. 

“Chinese drones pose an unacceptable surveillance risk,” said John Moolenaar (R-MI), who co-sponsored Rep. Stefanik’s legislation.

A firefighter flies a DJI M30 drone. (Photo courtesy of DJI)

Would increase costs for businesses that rely on DJI drones

Tariffs wouldn’t necessarily make American-made drones cheaper — but they would make DJI drones more expensive. A wedding photography business would definitely see costs increase the next time they buy a new DJI camera drone. But, they wouldn’t necessarily have equally-affordable alternatives. That’s largely because there are very few alternatives to DJI in the category of drones under $1,000.

Drone Advocacy Alliance, a group of drone industry players which includes DJI itself, has painted an incredibly bleak picture of the potential outcome of such legislation.

“The results of this legislation would be dire, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs with small businesses feeling the brunt of higher costs, a potential collapse of the consumer drone market and a reduction in the use of drones in life-saving operations,” according to a statement from the Drone Advocacy Alliance.

Would create a grant program with an inconsistent revenue stream 

Some critics of tariffs argue that programs structured like the Drones for First Responders Act create unpredictable, inconsistent revenue streams. Taking money from the sales of DJI drones means that funding for the grant program only comes in when DJI drones actually sell. Increasing consumer costs of DJI drones only makes it so consumers are less likely to buy them. Sure, that might accomplish a politician’s goal to take down DJI. But, it doesn’t accomplish the stated goal of funding the purchase of American drones by U.S. first response teams.

As a tariff alternative, some experts have argued that — to accomplish the goal of getting funding for American drone companies — the government should essentially follow the lead of the Chinese government. That’s directly investing in American drone companies (or creating grand programs) out of a more general budget — not one tied to DJI drone sales.

Could help fund American drone companies

For grant programs that rely on tariffs, some money is better than no money. So even with the inconsistent revenue stream that tariffs bring in, the money could do something to help provide the financial backing to American drone companies. That could at least do something to make up for the roughly decade that DJI has had in collecting money from its own home government to grow its business.

“A strong U.S. drone manufacturing industrial base represents a strategic imperative for the U.S,” said Michael Robbins, President and CEO of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). “We can, and must, do more to bolster drone security for end users while supporting U.S. values, aviation leadership, and investments in manufacturing jobs.

That said, some involved with the bill have suggested it could go further in establishing a more consistent base specifically to account for that issue. For example, Michael Stumo CEO of the Coalition for A Prosperous America, suggested that perhaps phasing-in tariffs tied with subsidies would help to incubate new manufacturing industries.

Would increase costs for Americans outside the drone industry

Proponents of tariffs argue that costs only increase on buyers of those products, which is in some part true. A 30% price increase on drones has little direct effect on someone who has never bought a drone.

“Grant programs are a common-sense mechanism for getting secure, capable drones into the hands of public safety, critical infrastructure, and agriculture applications, and with the DFR Act’s revenue raising measure, the grants are at no additional cost to the taxpayer,” Robbins said.

But as drones become increasingly commonplace in everything from drone deliveries to real estate photos, the effects could actually be more far-reaching than intended. For example, photographers might charge more for their services to pass off the higher costs to buy DJI drones. That means couples getting married might pay even more for their weddings if an aerial photo is involved. Likewise, delivery fees for your next drone-delivered meal would likely go up, as would the cost of buying a home (assuming the listing involved an aerial photo).

Even taxpayers could see higher costs. For example, wildlife management teams have used drones to search for or count animals in a given area. Such a fairly simple use case doesn’t necessitate a high-end drone. A simple camera drone execute such a task. If, say, Yellowstone National Park had to pay 30% more for a drone to count bison, they might need a bigger budget. That just means more taxpayer money.

Would reduce sales of DJI drones in the U.S.

DJI Mini 4K
The DJI Mini 4K. (Image courtesy of DJI)

It’s almost certain that higher price tags on drones would reduce their sales. DJI has introduced incredibly low-cost camera drones like the DJI Mini 4K. Such drones have proven affordable enough to land a spot on countless Christmas gift guides and birthday wish lists.

But perhaps that’s exactly the goal of American politicians, who have been on a streak lately of banning Chinese-associated products. That includes recent efforts to ban TikTok.

“We simply cannot cede control of the drone market to the Chinese Communist Party,” said Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA).

What’s next for the DFR Act?

Expect a lot of movement on the DFR Act to come. That includes more broad government discussion on topics about Chinese-made drones and drones for public safety in the coming months.

AUVSI, which is the world’s largest non-profit organization to promote drones and robotics, will host its annual Hill Day in June 2024. There, expect key discussions around the value of drones in public safety near or at the forefront. Additionally, members of AUVSI’s Air, Maritime, Ground, and Cyber Advocacy Committees are set to meet with lawmakers. They’ll discuss policies that will allow the deployment of uncrewed systems to better serve American communities, including for applications in public safety and emergency response as part of Hill Day.

Consider the intersection of the DFR Act with other proposed anti-drone legislation

The DFR Act is hardly the only piece of legislation that seeks to impede sales of DJI drones.

Among those include the American Security Drone Act of 2023. If passed, it would prohibit federal agencies from purchasing drones made by certain foreign entities, like those made in China.

And then there’s the  Countering CCP Drones Act. That act would place DJI on a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blacklist. In turn, that effectively blocks new DJI drones from flying in the U.S. (though existing DJI drones would still be okay). Perhaps not coincidentally, Representative Elise Stefanik, who introduced the DFR Act, is also the same politician who introduced the far more controversial Countering CCP Drones Act.

Neither of those two proposed laws have yet to have passed. Though, many say it’s unlikely such a law would pass given how extreme an entire DJI ban could be perceived. In fact, some industry experts consider the DFR Act a more moderate version of other proposed policies, such as those named above.

For example, Matt Sloane, CEO and founder of Skyfire Consulting, shared strong support for the DFR Act in an op-ed for drone news site DRONELIFE. Much of it stems from his belief that this is a more moderate version of what might otherwise be an outright ban.

“It accounts for the fact that a further limitation on PRC drones is likely coming, and seeks a middle-ground approach towards disincentivizing people from buying them, while at the same time incentivizing them to buy alternative drones — BUT — it doesn’t call for a ban,” he wrote in the DRONELIFE post.

If you want to publicly oppose the DFR Act

If you’re opposed to the DFR Act, the Drone Advocacy Act built a form for you to voice your opinions. They’ve created a webpage that sends a pre-written message to your local Representative asking them to push back on the DFR Act.

Did you find this article useful? I make money based on donations from readers. This site stays alive thanks to your generosity! If you want more content like this, please consider donating to my page via a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you, and happy flying!

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DRONELIFE.com Launches New Drone Podcast: Weekly Wings

DRONELIFE.com is proud to announce the launch of a new drone podcast series, Weekly Wings, hosted by DRONELIFE Contributing Editor Paul Rossi. The podcast will be co-hosted by professional drone pilots Terry Neff and Samuel Stansberry, offering a unique perspective on the latest trends and issues in the drone industry. Paul Rossi, President of Nine […]

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‘Disney Dreams That Soar’ drone show takes flight at Disney Springs

This past weekend, Walt Disney World Resort debuted its newest drone show, “Disney Dreams That Soar,” at Disney Springs.

Disney Springs is the resort’s free, outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment district, making it free to watch this drone show. The 10-minute drone show features 800 drones forming beloved Disney characters like Peter Pan, Dumbo, and Buzz Lightyear. Among the most impressive parts of the show? A a 213-foot Death Star from “Star Wars.” Then there’s Big Ben in the “Peter Pan” sequence of the show, which stands at 328 feet tall. That’s actually taller than the real-life Big Ben’s height of 316 feet.

The width of the show spans an impressive 524 feet. In Disney terms, that’s roughly equivalent to the length of two and a half Monorail trains. And it all plays out in sync to a custom soundtrack, recorded in-studio by a full orchestra.

If you can’t see it for yourself, the folks over at WDW News Today put together a video of the opening night. Now, you can watch Disney Dreams That Soar from your own couch:

How to watch the free, Disney Springs drone show

“Disney Dreams That Soar” takes place nightly at Disney Springs (weather-permitting) through Sept. 2, 2024. Shows usually run twice a night at 9 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Though check the official entertainment schedule on Disney’s website to confirm ahead of your arrival.

You’ll see it most clearly from the West Side of the massive shopping complex along the waterfront between the Cirque du Soleil Theatre and Aerophile – The World Leader in Balloon Flight.

Disney Dreams That Soar
(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

Tips for watching Disney Dreams That Soar

  • Know where to park: Parking at Disney Springs is free, and there are multiple parking structures. That said, arrive at least 60 minutes before the show time. Parking is fairly high-tech, as digital message boards along Buena Vista Drive indicate when garages and surface lots are full. And though the shopping complex is free for the public to enter, Disney does say they may cut off access if it gets too crowded. Given that, arrive early to prevent your access from being blocked. “Due to limited capacity, we may need to occasionally pause parking and pedestrian entry,” according to a statement from Disney.
  • Arrive early: Arrive at your viewing spot at least 30 minutes before showtime to secure a good viewing location, especially on weekends. Since viewing areas are first-come, first-serve — and the show is one of the few free drone shows — expect big crowds. And yes, viewing areas filled up on opening night.
  • Scope out the best viewing spots: For the best vantage points, consider areas near the Marketplace, the bridge between Town Center and The Landing, or in front of AMC Theatres.
  • If you need wheelchair access: There’s a wheelchair entrance over at the Food Truck Park section of Disney Springs.
  • Make it part of a full day: Disney Springs makes for one of the best, free ways to do Walt Disney World. With more than 150 shops and restaurants, it’s easy to fill at least a half-day at the complex. That should make it more reasonable to arrive early to beat the crowds to parking spaces and entrance.
  • Skip the theme park tickets (at least on your drone show day):  Disney World trip costs are high. Bu stay at a Disney-owned hotel, budget at least $300 per person, per day if you intend to buy theme park tickets and stay at a Disney-owned hotel. That said, you don’t need Disney tickets to watch this show. And because theme park tickets can easily run more than $100 per person, per day, consider scheduling this show into your vacation itinerary on a day you don’t have a park ticket.
Disney Dreams That Soar
(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

Leveling up the technology

As multiple theme park drone shows play out around the world this summer, shows are seeking to distinguish themselves with more, creative technology uses besides just drones.

This show itself is a huge upgrade to the last time Disney Springs hosted a drone show. That was seven years ago — way back in 2016. During the 2016 winter holiday season, Disney Springs played ‘Starbright Holidays’, a drone show in partnership with Intel. That show was paltry in size compared to this summer’s show. Starbright Holidays featured 300 drones which — at the time — was huge. But compared to this summer’s 800-drone show, that’s nothing.

How Disney drone shows compare to competitors

Industry experts expect the drone show from Universal Orlando, which is Walt Disney’s World’s biggest competitor, will be even better. That park’s summer drone show, called “CineSational: A Symphonic Spectacular,” launches on Friday, June 14. It incorporates dancing water fountains on the lagoon in the center of the theme park, fireworks, and projection mapping on the buildings around the lagoon.

And aligning drones with fireworks is just the beginning. Drone show leader Sky Elements this month got Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to actually attach fireworks directly to the drones themselves. With that comes a unique waterfall effect in the sky.

Disney Dreams That Soar integration with MagicBand+

As far as Disney’s attempt at incorporating tech? The Disney Dreams That Soar drone show syncs to MagicBand+. When you watch the show, your MagicBand+ “springs to life” by lighting up and vibrating in sync with the show.

MagicBand+ is a wearable used at Walt Disney World designed to put key functions of experiencing the parks in one place. The wrist-worn device acts as your park ticket, room key (if staying at a Disney resort hotel), Lightning Lane entrance facilitator, and PhotoPass photo linker — reducing your need to have a paper ticket or plastic room key, or needing to pull out your phone.

But the device also has some more fun, interactive capabilities. You can interact with certain shows, park features, and even participate in mini-games (like Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters) through the band’s functionalities. And yes, among those shows is now the Disney World drone show.

Disney Dreams That Soar
(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

Want to put on your drone show? For $10,000, you could launch your own 10-drone light show display. Find out how you could make this $10,000 drone light show kit yours.

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DARPA Shows Concepts for the Future of VTOL Uncrewed Aerial Systems

DARPA’s AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY program, known as ANCILLARY, shows six design concepts for a low-weight, large-payload, long-endurance VTOL uncrewed X-plane. The innovative configurations and critical technology designs come from a wide array of performers, from small start-up to legacy aerospace companies, broadening the network of partners contributing to the program. “The goal […]