/>
X
Innovation
Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.

Close

Are DJI Mini drones now non-compliant for commercial use? [FAQ]

It's complicated, and unraveling the answers took some doing. Find out how you can continue flying legally - or not.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer
DJI Mini 4 Pro
DJI/ZDNET

Several readers have directed me to a DroneXL article reporting that the latest firmware update for certain drones has "inadvertently made these devices illegal for commercial use" in the US.

The drones in question are DJI's popular lightweight models, the DJI Mini 3 and DJI Mini 4 Pro.

Also: The best drones you can buy

What exactly is happening here?

To grasp the issue, we need to examine both the firmware update that DJI released for the drones in question as well as the Federal Aviation Authority's (FAA) extensive regulations regarding drones.

Firstly, regarding the firmware updates: The release notes for the DJI Mini 4 Pro update on December 2, 2023, can be found here, and the notes for the DJI Mini 3 update on January 25, 2024, are available here.

The update detail causing concern is as follows:

Added support for automatically activating the US Remote ID only when the aircraft is used with an Intelligent Flight Battery Plus.

At first glance, it's just one line, but -- to understand its importance -- there's significant context to unravel. 

What is Remote ID?

With the increasing number of drones buzzing around the skies, the FAA determined a need for a system that would enable drones in flight to broadcast identification and location information to various parties, including but not limited to, other pilots, the FAA, and law enforcement and other federal agencies.

The mandate for Remote ID was legislated, with a compliance deadline of September 16, 2023. Drones requiring registration, used for recreation, business, or public safety, needed to adhere.

Newer drones came with built-in Remote ID capabilities, while older models required additional modules for compliance.

However, due to several factors, such as the limited availability of Remote ID-compatible broadcast modules for existing drones lacking Remote ID, the FAA recognized that some drone operators might struggle to meet the requirements. As a result, it issued a notification stating that for Remote ID violations occurring on or before March 16, 2024, it would "consider all circumstances… when exercising its discretion in determining whether to take enforcement action."

Therefore, if you're mandated to use Remote ID and are flying without it between September 16, 2023, and March 16, 2024, you should have a substantial justification.

But which drones need Remote ID? The answer isn't straightforward.

Which drones must comply with Remote ID rules?

To answer this, we delve into the FAA's regulations once more. Two key pieces of guidance emerge:

  • All drones must be registered, except those that weigh 0.55 pounds or less (less than 250 grams) and are flown under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations.
  • Drones registered under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations cannot be flown under Part 107.

What this means is that if you're a recreational flyer with a drone under 0.55 pounds/250 grams, you don't need Remote ID. However, commercial drone pilots must comply with Part 107 rules (yes, more rules), and their drones must have Remote ID.

Also: My search for the best cheap Android tablet is over

What's wrong with the DJI update for Mini 3 and Mini 4 Pro?

Note that both the Mini 3 and Mini 4 Pro are sub-250-gram drones when equipped with the standard battery. DJI also offers a larger, heavier Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, which increases the drone's weight beyond 250 grams.

Revisiting the wording in the release notes:

Added support for automatically activating the US Remote ID only when the aircraft is used with an Intelligent Flight Battery Plus.

This means recreational pilots flying a Mini 3 or Mini 4 Pro with a standard battery don't require Remote ID. However, the introduction of a larger battery triggers the Remote ID automatically.

Also: Mavic 3 Pro: Hands-on with the best drone for content creators

This is acceptable for recreational use.

The problem arises for commercial pilots. When flying with the standard battery, the drone still requires Remote ID for commercial purposes, but there's no manual activation option, as it's automatically controlled, rendering the drone non-compliant.

Bottom line, commercial pilots operating under Part 107 flying the Mini 3 or Mini 4 Pro must kit their drones with an Intelligent Flight Battery Plus to remain lawful.

So are the Mini 3 and Mini 4 Pro non-compliant for commercial work?

If flying without the Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, then yes.

Is this a bug or some oversight in interpreting the rules?

It seems likely. I've reached out to DJI for a statement and will provide updates upon response.

I'm a commercial drone pilot with a Mini 3/Mini 4 Pro. What should I do?

You have a few options.

My advice is to buy an Intelligent Flight Battery Plus and install it in your drone to enable Remote ID. The additional battery life alone is beneficial, especially for commercial pilots.

Also: This foldable drone fits in the palm of my hand and takes the best selfies

Note: Make sure you purchase a genuine DJI battery. The savings from a cheaper, lower-quality alternative will be insignificant if a battery failure results in losing your drone.

Alternatively – but bear in mind I am not a lawyer – you could carry on flying as usual until March 16, 2024, and hope that the FAA exercises its discretion if you are caught.

I'm a recreational/hobbyist flyer. Does this affect me?

No. 

If you fly with the standard battery then your Mini 3 of Mini 4 Pro will be below 250 grams and you don't need Remote ID. If you fit the bigger battery, then Remote ID will be automatically activated for you. 


Editorial standards