Florida Issues List of State-Approved Drone Companies, Raising Concerns among First Responders
BY Zacc Dukowitz6 January 2022
The Florida Department of Management Services recently published a list of drone companies approved for use and purchase by all governmental agencies in the state.
The companies on the list—Skydio, Parrot, Altavian, Teal Drones, and Vantage Robotics—are the same ones on the Department of Defense’s original Blue UAS list. One difference between the two lists is that the Blue UAS list contains specific drone models while the Florida list only contains the names of drone companies.
However, on the same webpage it reads: “This list provides approved manufacturers but does not guarantee that all models produced by these manufacturers meet an individual governmental agency’s specific needs or security requirements.” (Italics are ours.)
The statement is a little confusing, but they’re basically saying: these companies create approved drones, but not all drones created by these companies are approved.
Here is the timeline laid out by the Florida Department of Management Services for compliance:
- By July 1, 2022 all governmental agencies using drones not on the department’s approved list must submit a comprehensive plan for discontinuing their use to the department.
- By January 1, 2023 all governmental agencies must stop using drones that aren’t on the department’s approved list.
Why Are People Concerned about Florida’s List of Approved Drones?
Right now, the vast majority of public safety agencies in the U.S. use DJI drones.
According to results from a DRONERESPONDERS survey released in August of 2021, 90% of public safety agencies use DJI drones.
And a study released by Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone in 2020 found that 92% of the drone models used by public safety agencies were made by DJI.
Credit: Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone
DJI is clearly not on the list of drones approved for use by government agencies in Florida (and probably never will be).
This means that, when the Florida policy goes into effect in seven months, police departments, fire departments, and other state emergency service providers will have to submit a plan for discontinuing the use of their non-compliant drones (i.e., drones made by DJI, Autel, and any other company not on the list).
It also means that those public safety agencies will have to replace most or all of their drones within the next year.
And that is why people are concerned right now—one year is a very short window of time for replacing most or all of your drones, especially if no funding has been provided to do so. Additionally, the drones that are approved may be much more expensive, and may not provide all the features needed.
In short, many public safety agencies who are just starting to get their drone programs going may now be faced with permanently grounding their fleet. The impact on these drone programs could last for years, as departments work to raise funds and buy new equipment to replace the drones they already own.
Although public safety agencies might be the most impacted by this new policy, other state agencies in Florida will also face similar challenges.
Not only will public safety agencies potentially have their drone fleets decimated, but also, as we understand the policy, those who work in conservation or GIS at the state level, as well as educators who use drones in the classroom.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of the Interior flew over 11,000 drone missions to do things like conduct search and rescue missions, help fight fires, survey dams. But in 2020 it had to ground hundreds of drones—basically its entire fleet—after privacy concerns arose around the use of DJI drones, bringing its total missions flown in 2020 down to almost 0.
A similar freeze in drone activity at Florida agencies could potentially have a chilling effect not only on governmental drone programs in the state, but also on the state’s drone industry in general.
What Does the Future Look Like?
The big concern right now is that other states might take similar measures as Florida, effectively kneecapping the drone programs at public safety and other agencies across the U.S.
But despite concerns, it is still too early to tell what will actually happen, or whether this list from Florida is final. In fact, according to some drone industry insiders who have been in touch with Florida officials, the list of approved drone companies was posted to comply with a new law called SB44, and it’s only meant to be a draft list.
If this is true, Florida administrators may be planning a more thorough review, after which they could possibly add more companies to the list (or at least add the new Blue UAS 2.0 companies).
That being said, if the DOD took 18 months to create its first list, it seems unlikely that Florida will invest similar resources and time to do the same kind of review.