Florida DJI drone ban grounds $200m fleet and angers police and state officials

Montage of the Florida state flag and a DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise drone behind bars
(Image credit: Future)

A law, backed by Florida governor (and US Presidential hopeful) Ron DeSantis, banning the use of Chinese drones in Florida has gone into force, grounding millions of dollars worth of police and state-service-owned drones overnight.

The law, Florida statute 934.50, is an unfunded mandate, meaning there is no new money for departments operating drones to replace their Chinese – usually DJI or Autel – drones with alternatives, and, as many have pointed out, the alternatives often aren't up to the job. DJI is the largest supplier of non-military drones on the planet, with a wide choice of the best DJI drones for most tasks.

Lieutenant Michael Crabb, of the North County Sheriff's Office, told the Florida state senate said: "If there are national security issues with a DJI drone, then show us what it is." He also said: "I'm an American, and I wish we could buy all American-made drones [but] there are limitations with American-made, unfortunately." He indicates that, of a fleet of 25 drones used to monitor active crimes and in other police work, 19 were DJI and would now be grounded.

DJI has said that the Florida decision "ruling against the use of Chinese-made drones for law enforcement is a regrettable development and is unjustified.”

The Vantage Robotics Vesper. California-based Vantage Robotics is one of the drones on Florida's approved drone companies list. (Image credit: Vantage Robotics)

Florida now maintains its own list of approved drone manufacturers. These are Skydio, Parrot, Altavian, Teal Drones, and Vantage Robotics. Oddly – given the security concerns which are cited by proponents of the law – Altavian isn't even able to maintain a secure website. It is owned by FLIR and the site shows only a single fixed-wing design. Teal Drones looks to have an interesting product on the way, the Teal 2, though the controller costs more than a Mavic 3. Vantage Robotics offers a folding Vespar in various configurations which seems the most similar to the Mavic 3 Enterprise.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Col. Robert Allen reportedly said: “We had five failures of the manufacturers on the list. DJI, none.” 

There is not even agreement over this within the Republican party. Senator Tom Wright has been an enthusiastic proponent of using drones in car chases and other police businesses. He said, "This would require law enforcement agencies and fire departments across our state to throw away nearly $200 million of DJI drones.” He has sponsored a bill, SB1514, to delay the law, but it has not yet been heard. 

The ban doesn't apply to consumers in Florida, only to government agencies, but perhaps it's worth checking out our Skydio 2+ review to see what American-made drones are like?

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook