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DJI Flies Under FAA Rules and US-China Tensions

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Chinese drone behemoth DJI recently unveiled its latest consumer drone called the Mavic Mini which weighs just 249 grams (0.55 pounds). The 249 grams sounds like an odd marketing point but the main reason for this specific weight is that it does not weigh enough to mean that the drone has to be registered with the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) in the US or the CAA in the UK, and the pilot does not need to pass a test. DJI has managed to pack a number of features into the drone even though it is 51 grams lighter than the DJI Spark and 100 grams lighter than the Mavic Air. These include a 2.7k camera which can do full HD recording at 60 frames per second, 30 minutes flight time and a 4 km/2.5 mile range for $399. However, on the flip side the Mavic Mini cannot follow you autonomously as many other DJI’s can, and the connection with the drone is done over WiFi, which does not handle the video stream nearly as well as DJI's proprietary Ocusync technology.

DJI is also the world’s biggest drone maker and may represent about 70% of the US market. Government agencies also use their drones to fight fire, monitor wildlife or for search-and-rescue operations. Following the US-China tensions, the US interior department grounded its entire fleet of drones last month, including the ones made by DJI, to assess if drones partly made in China pose a threat to national security as the data could potentially be sent to servers in China. DJI has created close links with the FAA and has navigated the US-China security concerns better than the Chinese 5G leader Huawei, which has been banned by the US government. Alternatives to DJI’s drones include the French Parrot, the Americans 3D Robotics and Autel Robotics.

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