A Look at Trump’s Executive Order

Breaking Down Trump’s New Executive Order on Protecting The United States From Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Just three days before leaving office President Trump leaves one last impact on the drone industry with a new executive order issued this Monday night. This was one of five executive orders released late on Monday, and focuses on limiting the procurement of foreign-made UAS by the US government.

Put in the administration’s own words, this executive order is meant to “prevent the use of taxpayer dollars to procure UAS that present unacceptable risks and are manufactured by, or contain software or critical electronic components from, foreign adversaries, and to encourage the use of domestically produced UAS.”

The executive order builds on news from the GSA just last week that they would remove all non Blue sUAS drones from many government contracts, and the more widely covered news of China’s DJI being added to the US Entity List.

We expect that Trump’s executive order will capture significant media attention, but won’t have a large impact on the drone industry. This is due to the fact that previous actions are already prioritising Blue sUAS drones and ongoing pressure on federal agencies have moved them away from procuring Chinese or foreign made drones in the past.

Impact on Federal Procurements and Security Review

The executive order asks federal agencies to consider to cease procuring (directly or indirectly), providing grants or renewing contracts that would involve using a drone with critical components made in Iran, China, North Korea or Russia. Over the past few years, we have seen these rules being loosely followed by federal agencies as political pressure and potential legislation (such as the NDAA) threatened to do similar.

One new aspect of this EO is that it requires federal agencies to align with the Director of National Intelligence on the drones being used and whether or not to discontinue their use over security concerns. This process is meant to happen within 180 days from the EO and could result in large shifts among agencies with large fleets, most notably the Department of Interior.

Lastly, the EO does set up a general guideline on what components are considered critical for the design of new aircraft, which will hopefully allow US manufacturers to rely on China and other low-cost manufacturing countries to supply non-critical parts

The term “critical electronic component” means any electronic device that stores, manipulates, or transfers digital data. The term critical electronic component does not include, for example, passive electronics such as resistors, and non-data transmitting motors, batteries, and wiring.

Trump Administration Executive Order on Protecting The United States From Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems, January 19, 2021

Will This EO Be Reversed?

As with many of the Trump administrations final actions, it is fair to assume that Biden’s administration will review and consider reversing any actions taken, with executive orders being the simplest to reverse. Despite this, my opinion is that the Biden administration is not likely to reverse this executive order as it aligns with their tough on China stance and “Made in All of America” economic policy.

Biden’s “Made in All of America” economic policy directly calls to “strengthen and enforce Buy America [policies]” while calling for an overall increase in federal procurements for infrastructure and R&D. This executive order aligns with these goals, so even if this specific EO is reversed, we would likely see similar guidelines on federal procurements come into effect.

Rebirth of the US Drone Hardware Ecosystem

While we generally haven’t seen large procurements of sUAS drones for federal uses outside of the military, this executive order will support domestic manufacturers in capturing future federal procurements and projects run by government contractors. This comes after several years of federal policies that have attempted to rebirth a US drone hardware ecosystem.

From our 2020 Drone Market Sector Report, we found that the combined US manufacturer’s share of the global drone market caught up to the level it was in 2017 but with a significant shakeup in the brands involved.

While the US drone hardware ecosystem returned to 2017 levels of global market share, we are seeing a complete shift in players in the market

The firms currently with a drone in the DIU’s Blue sUAS group (Skydio, Parrot, ) are most likely to benefit the most from this executive order, but we expect a general slowdown in federal procurements in the short term as these drones are primarily designed for public safety and military applications. We break down the movements in the US drone hardware ecosystem in an accompanying blog post.

Potential Impacts on Drone Regulations

One more nuanced mention in President Trump’s EO is that it requires the FAA to, within 270 days, propose regulations that would allow applicants to petition the FAA to restrict or prohibit operating drones near a fixed site facility.

Limitations near designated sites was originally requested of the FAA in 2016, which included critical infrastructure (energy production, transmission and distribution), oil refineries, chemical facilities and amusement parks as examples of fixed site facilities.

While it is too early to say how this might result in new regulations from the FAA, I would expect new penalties for pilots caught flying near these sites without proper authorization and, less likely, a mandated geofencing system to prevent consumer drones from operating near these sites.

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David Benowitz

David is the Head of Research at DroneAnalyst, responsible for developing and expanding its drone industry research portfolio. David joins the team from DJI, where he contributed as a founding member of its Enterprise business. David is based in Shenzhen, China waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic.