Two senators propose to bar US FAA from using Chinese drones

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators said on Thursday they had proposed barring the Federal Aviation Administration from buying or using Chinese-made drones.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, and Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, proposed legislation that would also prohibit the FAA from providing federal funds to foreign drone companies from China and several other countries. She said the FAA operates more than a dozen drones that were produced in China.

The prohibitions would also apply to drones made Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.

“Taxpayer dollars should never fund drones manufactured in regions that are hostile toward the U.S.,” Blackburn said, adding the bill “helps curb the importation of drones produced by our adversaries, keeping our nation safer and encouraging manufacturing here at home.”

The bill would also require the FAA to replace any Chinese-built drone with a U.S.- or allied-built drone within one year.

The FAA did not immediately comment.

Last week, Republican Senator Marco Rubio asked the U.S. Capitol Police to stop using drones made by Autel Robotics, a Chinese drone manufacturer, citing security concerns.

In 2020, the Commerce Department imposed export restrictions on top drone maker DJI, accusing it of complicity in the oppression of China’s Uyghur minority or helping the military.

In April, Republican Representatives Elise Stefanik and Mike Gallagher introduced legislation to add DJI to the Federal Communications Commission’s Covered List, which would prohibit it from operating on U.S. communications infrastructure.

Over 50% of drones sold in the U.S. are made by Chinese-based company DJI, and they are the most popular drone in use by public safety agencies, the lawmakers said.

The U.S. government has taken other actions to limit Chinese-made drone purchases.

In January 2020, the U.S. Interior Department said it was grounding its fleet of about 800 Chinese-made drones after halting additional purchases of such drones by the agency.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)