Report: Interior Department wants China-made drones out of the skies

Some warn that it could affect searches for wildfires and other disasters.

Close up on white drone camera. Drone quadcopter in flight

The Interior Department is expected to ground drones manufactured in or carrying parts from China, according to The Wall Street Journal. The move comes amid administrative anxieties around Chinese espionage. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt explained to the publication that he decided to issue the order after receiving intelligence about national security risks.

Although the department's order does not explicitly bring China up, it puts a strong emphasis on using domestically manufactured drones as their foreign counterparts carry the potential to send information that is "valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments."

Not all see eye to eye — While Interior officials may see a prudential reason to ground foreign drones, including the ones made by Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, others worry that this move could drastically affect the ability to track wildfires, floods, rescue missions, and other sensitive situations. In 2018 alone, according to The Wall Street Journal, at least 10,342 drone flights were used to monitor areas in the United States, especially the West Coast.

Skeptics also worry, as The Wall Street Journal noted, that grounding these drones would exacerbate expenses as helicopters and planes are far more expensive in comparison. They are also more likely to crash in turbulent weather conditions.

DJI asserts itself — Interior officials may think that this is for security purposes but naysayers insist that grounding foreign drones is a way to stifle market competition. "This decision makes clear that the United States government’s concerns about DJI drones, which are part of the DOI fleet, have little to do with security and are instead part of a politically motivated agenda to reduce market competition and support domestically produced drone technology, regardless of its merits," a DJI official stated on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

DJI may not agree with Bernhardt's order but the Interior secretary insisted to The Wall Street Journal that he knows what he's doing. "All security comes down to a person in my position deciding what risk is acceptable," he said, "and what is not."