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"Spatially Speaking" is the official MAPPS blog providing information on topics related to the association and profession and MAPPS involvement with the issues.


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National Surveyors Week - MAPPS Minute

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Friday, March 21, 2014

MAPPS joins in celebrating National Surveyors Week in this week's MAPPS Minute. Among the topics covered is the use of remote sensing and satellite technologies to find the lost Malaysia Airlines flight, MAPPS interaction with FAA Administrator Huerta at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAV), the White House working with Esri (a MAPPS member firm) on climate change, and recent articles in National Public Radio and The Washington Post on the extent of unneeded buildings and land owned by the Federal government. 

Tags:  Climate Change  FAA  Federal Government  FLAIR  Land Inventory  National Surveyors Week  NPR  Parcels  President Obama  Remote Sensing  Tax Dollars  UAVs  Washington Post  Waste  White House 

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FAA Announces Six Unmanned Aircraft Test Site Locations

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Monday, December 30, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced the six sites for testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The test site operators include the University of Alaska, the State of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi and Virginia Tech.

"In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk. In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” said Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator, in a statement and on a conference call with media.

"The announcement of the six test sites is a welcomed gift to start the New Year as businesses in the geospatial community see unmanned aircraft systems as a revolutionary new platform to provide critical information and geographic data to the citizens of the United States,” said John Palatiello, MAPPS Executive Director. "MAPPS congratulates the six operating locations and commends the FAA for this announcement.”

The FAA stated the intent of the test sites is for research and development of safety standards and these facilities and locations are to be open for commercial users.  The ability to access the six test sites by commercial entities must be brokered directly with each test site operator.

 "MAPPS members are encouraged to work with these test site operators to research and develop their UAS platforms, data acquisition systems, and applications, as well as to assure full commercial participation in order to prevent unfair university or government competition,” Palatiello said.

Some interesting items to note:

  • The University of Alaska includes test site locations in Hawaii and Oregon;
  • Virginia Tech’s selection includes a MOU with Rutgers University in New Jersey;
  • As mandated in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012, the first test site will be operational within 180 days. The test sites will be operation through the end of the current authorization that expires in 2017. This will overlap with the mandated introduction of UAS in the national airspace in 2015;
  • The FAA is not providing funding for the test site locations. Each of the test site operators are providing operational funding through their own means


Tags:  Aircraft  FAA  Geospatial  Policy  UAS  UAV  Unmanned Aircraft Systems 

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MAPPS Minute - September 13, 2013

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Friday, September 13, 2013



Nick Palatiello, MAPPS Assistant Executive Director for External Affairs,  provides an update on MAPPS activities. Welcome new member firm, recording of webinar with USGS on 3DEP, meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration on LIDAR issues, program announcement for the Geospatial & Engineering International Conference and a new blog post on the status of a FY14 budget.

Tags:  3DEP  Congress  FAA  LIDAR 

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MAPPS to Host Special Washington Policy Lunch to Address UAVs, August 14

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 9, 2013



MAPPS will host a special roundtable discussion of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) issues featuring key Congressional staff on Wednesday, August 14.

In just the last week, two certificates of authorization (COAs) were awarded for commercial use and panelists at the MAPPS 2013 Summer Conference were optimistic that a small class of UAVs could receive special approval by the end of 2013. MAPPS is working to continue to keep members and the community up to date with legislative and regulatory information to advance the use of the technology in the commercial market.

This luncheon will take place at Noon at Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center, 901 K Street, NW, Suite 1100 Washington, DC 20001 and coincides with the annual conference and exhibition of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) to be held at the Washington, DC Convention Center. MAPPS has developed a relationship with AUVSI to educate lawmakers at the Federal and state level on the benefits of UAV implementation.

This luncheon will provide attendees an opportunity to hear and learn about policies, legislation and other governmental actions affecting commercial certificates of authorization for UAVs, which can become a popular platform for acquisition of imagery and other geospatial source data. Engage in a discussion of timely topics on the timing, policies and issues affecting UAVs.

MAPPS has confirmed a bipartisian panel of Capitol Hill staff as speakers:

Blas Nunez-Neto, Senior Professional Staff Member (Majority) at Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC). Mr. Nunez-Neto will discuss HSGAC Oversight of UAV-UAS Operations along the Border (CBP/DHS). He was formerly an analyst in Domestic Security, Criminal Justice, and Immigration for the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Joan V. O'Hara, Deputy Chief Counsel (Majority) for the House Committee on Homeland Security. Ms. O'Hara will cover Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)/DHS operation of UAVs along the borders, how DHS is interacting with FAA for certificates of authorization (COAs), and prospects for legislative language covering UAVs in the DHS Reauthorization and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Mitchell "Mitch” Kominsky, Counsel (Majority), House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Mr. Kominsky will cover oversight plans by Chairman Darrell Issa (CA) for UAV technology and applications.

Tim Tarpley, Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, Rep. Ted Poe (TX). Mr. Tarpley will discuss Rep. Poe's sponsorship of H.R. 637, the "Preserving American Privacy Act of 2013".

Additional speakers may be added.

This event is open to MAPPS members, government partners, and guests. MAPPS members are encouraged to invite principals of private sector geospatial firms to attend the lunch.

Registration for the AUVSI conference is not required to attend the lunch.

The Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center is located one-half block west of the Washington, DC convention center.

Click here, to register for the lunch.

Tags:  Customs and Border Patrol  DHS  FAA  Privacy  UAV 

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MAPPS Comments to FAA Seeking Exemption for LIDAR Units in Rotorcraft, Encourages Geospatial Professionals to Submit Comments

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Friday, August 17, 2012

MAPPS has submitted comments to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on its proposed "Certification of Airborne Surveillance and Searchlight Systems Using Lasers or Infrared Searchlights in 14 CFR parts 27 and 29 Rotorcraft,” a rule that could harm the aerial LIDAR mapping market.

Over the past few months, the FAA has made it increasingly difficult for operators to perform aerial LIDAR missions by classifying mapping LIDAR as a harmful laser. With the help of LiDAR manufacturers and operators that make up the MAPPS membership, the association has been working with the FAA to address this issue. However, just like the "laser pointer” law that started the confusion, the MAPPS membership has been diligent in commenting on similar directives that could affect the use of LIDAR technologies.

Airborne LIDAR systems used for mapping are neither surveillance nor searchlight systems. However, language in the proposed policy that includes "installations of fully enclosed laser device..” can sweep the surveying and mapping LiDAR systems into the FAA regulatory scheme. This blanket policy, without knowledge of the niche mapping LiDAR market could affect many LIDAR businesses.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the determining government body for classification and ratings of laser systems. MAPPS member firms that are producers of airborne mapping LIDAR instrumentation all comply with 21 CFR 1040.10. These LIDAR systems are designed to be used as airborne mapping systems with careful attention to design and manufacture for the airborne environment.

As confusion has already taken place within FAA, MAPPS is seeking a specific exemption for mapping LiDAR in 14 CFR parts 27 and 29 Rotorcraft.

Firms that manufacture LiDAR systems and geospatial professionals who perform collection services are encouraged to submit comments to the FAA prior to the August 31 deadline.

Tags:  Comment  FAA  Lasers  LIDAR 

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Longer Depreciation Schedules and Air Traffic Control

Posted By Rich Breitlow, Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Richard Breitlow is an account executive with AGFA Materials Corporation, where he specializes in aerial photography product sales. He is the former chairman of the Aerial Acquisition Committee of MAPPS with more than 38 years’ experience in the aerial photography business.

Recently, President Obama proposed a Federal debt and deficit reduction plan that includes slower and longer depreciation schedules for business owned aircraft. While billed as eliminating a tax loophole for corporate executives’ jets, the proposal would also adversely affect small businesses, including aerial imagery and geospatial data collection operators. MAPPS has already commented

Now the "President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction" has been released, including a proposed $100 per flight fee for air traffic control services. This double-whammy on the aerial survey profession is both economically unwise and politically burdensome and unfair.

Like other aviation related associations, MAPPS recognizes the need to pay for air traffic control (ATC) services. General aviation has historically paid for those services through fuel taxes, commonly referred to as "pay at the pump". The proposed $100 fee per flight would add a whole new accounting requirement and new level of government bureaucracy just to administer and enforce the new requirement. The best way for general aviation to pay for ATC services is to continue to pay at the pump. Whether the current amount taxed is appropriate, or should be raised is another argument. Certainly there is a lot of waste in FAA spending that should be eliminated before increases are considered.

The Obama Administration portrayed the proposed fee as a tax on corporate jets. However the actual wording only excludes military aircraft, public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights. All aerial survey flights in controlled airspace would be subject to the proposed fee, regardless of aircraft type. MAPPS has gone on record in opposition to per flight air traffic control fees.

Adding a $100 fee per flight for ATC services would only further burden a profession already hard-hit by the decline in the housing market, and the economy in general, and would certainly have a negative impact on hiring. This fee would have just the opposite effect of the intent of the President's "jobs bill".

Lobbyists for commercial airlines have long favored measures to shift a larger share of the burden for ATC services to general aviation. However, attempts in the past to include a per flight ATC user fee or "charge" in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Authorization bill have been met with stiff opposition.

The current effort will, and should, meet a similar fate.

While the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction appears to have little chance of passing Congress, parts of it could find its way into the "Super Committee's" plan to reduce the national debt and annual government deficit. This is where the real danger lies.

In order to protect the interests of the aerial survey profession, and the public and clients we serve, I suggest:
  • the current Pay at the Pump method be preserved as the best way for general aviation to help pay for ATC services and the "fee per flight" concept be rejected,
  • Identify "Super Committee” members who are aviation friendly and urge them to either reject the fee outright, or adopt wording to exclude flights that are primarily work operations, such as small businesses operating aircraft for aerial surveys.
  • Identify FAA activities that can be reformed, eliminated or privatized to save money and explore a more balanced and equitable method of paying for FAA and ATC services that does not unfairly target general aviation generally or aerial survey operations in particular.

Tags:  ATC  Aviation  Congress  FAA  Tax 

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Don't Make LiDAR Criminal

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
As reported in LiDAR News yesterday, MAPPS has be working on an issue with LiDAR techonology and the FAA over the past several months. We have developed a one-pager  which has been distributed to members of the geospatial profession and to Members of Congress.

The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill, S. 223, and the House of Representatives has passed a free-standing bill, H.R. 386, to make it a criminal offense for anyone who "aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft.” The legislation defines a "laser pointer” as "any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.” However, this language was NOT included in H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization Bill, and therefore reconciliation is needed during a House-Senate Conference.

MAPPS is deeply concerned that this definition is too broad and vague. It could include LiDAR (Light Detecting And Ranging), a state-of-the art mapping technology that can measure the distance to or other characteristics of an area of land or an object by illuminating the area or item with light beams or pulses from a laser. LiDAR indeed uses a directed beam of light to identify a specific position, but does NOT pose the safety threat of the lasers intended by the legislation. A LiDAR device could be defined as pointing a laser beam, however LiDAR devices are not pointers.

LiDAR is a technology developed by NASA that is now fully commercialized. It is used for accurate floodplain mapping, conducting "danger tree surveys” of overhead power lines, measuring vegetative cover or biomass for climate change analysis and hundreds of other applications. There are more than 50 aerial LiDAR systems in operation in the United States.

One of the major users of LiDAR is the FAA itself. The FAA uses Single Point LiDAR devices to monitor airports throughout the United States. These devices point at aircraft for the purpose of getting the position of the aircraft during ground movement on the taxiway. LiDAR services, contracted by individual airport authorizes, utilize Stationary Tripod Scanners to survey the interiors and exteriors of structures at airports, Airborne LiDAR is used to conduct obstruction surveys, master planning and pavement surveys of runways. Each of these FAA-related operations would be in violation of the legislative language. In addition, USACE, NGA, USGS, FEMA, NOAA, and other agencies contract for LiDAR.

The legislation is clear in its intent to prohibit inappropriate use of the laser pointer, particularly when the objective is to disrupt or harm a pilot in the cockpit. With a slight modification, the legislative language could meet its intent, without impeding the safe and legitimate used of LiDAR technology.
JUNE 2011 UPDATE: Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt announced June 1 that the FAA will begin to impose civil penalties against people who point a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft. Today’s interpretation reflects the fact that pointing a laser at an aircraft from the ground could seriously impair a pilot’s vision and interfere with the flight crew’s ability to safely handle its responsibilities. The maximum civil penalty the FAA can impose on an individual for violating the FAA’s regulations that prohibit interfering with a flight crew is $11,000 per violation.

MAPPS urges that Congressional intent clearly state that LiDAR technology is not a danger to aviation operations, and that this technology enables public policy decisions. This Congressional intent should be entered into the Congressional Record and/or the Conference Report via a colloquy and/or by an official statement.

The following modification is respectfully recommended:

"any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.

For Further Information Contact: MAPPS John "JB” Byrd, Government Affairs Manager
1856 Old Reston Avenue, Suite 205, Reston, VA 20190 P: 703-787-6996; F: 703-787-7550; E:;

Tags:  FAA  LiDAR 

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Congressional Action Could Create New Demand for Geospatial Data

Posted By Nick Palatiello, Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Two pieces of legislation working their way through Congress could create new demand for geospatial data that may result in more business opportunities for MAPPS member firms.  Provisions adding guy-wires and freestanding towers as features shown in FAA aeronautical charting data and adding x,y, and z coordinates to structures on FEMA flood insurance rate maps have received initial approval in the U.S. House of Representatives.

FAA Authorization

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) had noticed that in recent years, low-flying aviators have faced an increased threat of uncharted, man-made obstructions that are difficult to see and avoid. There have been a number of pilot fatalities caused by collisions with unlit and unmarked guy-wire and freestanding towers. The most recent fatality occurred on January 10 when an agricultural aircraft collided with a guy-wire tower in Oakley, California.

Aviators who routinely operate aircraft at low altitudes face the threat of colliding with these structures, some of which have a diameter of only six to eight inches and are secured with guy-wires that connect at multiple heights and anchor to the ground. Affected pilots include Emergency Medical Services, firefighters, agricultural crop dusters, fish and wildlife service aircraft, mosquito control and many others.

Rep. Neugebauer offered an amendment to H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, to direct the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a feasibility study on the development of an internet-based public resource that would list the exact height, longitude, and latitude of potential low-altitude aviation obstructions. The provision of this data would enable the public and pilots who fly at low levels to know where these structures are located. The data would allow aviators to obtain the information necessary to avoid these structures in their flight plans.

MAPPS supported the amendment.   When FAA conducts the study, we will have a seat at the table.  H.R. 658 subsequently passed the House.  A companion bill, S. 223, has passed the U.S. Senate, without the tower and guy-wire provision.  A House-Senate Conference Committee will soon meet to reconcile differences between the two chambers’ bills.

FEMA Flood Insurance Reform

The House Financial Services Committee has begun work on H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), chair of the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.  The Subcommittee reported the bill to the full committee on April 6 with a provision approved as an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) to study the collection display of the vertical positioning of structures on FEMA flood insurance maps. The bill re-establishes a Technical Mapping Advisory Committee (TMAC), of which there would be members from the private mapping community.  The Stivers Amendment asks the TMAC to do an analysis of collecting vertical positioning data.

To view the webcast of the subcommittee mark-up, go to, where the Stivers amendment can be found at 5:45 to 10:25.

This was the result of Ken Scruggs' (Midwest Aerial Photography, Galloway, OH) visit with Congressman Stivers during the Federal Programs Conference.

This is evidence that grass roots, individual citizen/MAPPS member contact with your elected representative WORKS!
Good work, Ken and JB (and everyone else who helped).

Tags:  Advocacy  Congress  FAA  FIRM Act 

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