This year, for the first time, MAPPS had a presence at the annual convention of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), held Aug. 12-15 at the Washington, D.C., convention center.
Our participation stems from a lunch meeting MAPPS President Jeff Lower, Assistant Executive Director Nick Palatiello and I had with AUVSI President Michael Toscano, Government Affairs Manager and General Counsel Ben Gielow and State Government Affairs Manager Mario Mairena at which a liaison between our respective organizations to work collaboratively on legislation and policy issues was discussed. As a result, Mairena spoke at the MAPPS Summer Conference in Maine in July and I was invited to speak this week at the meeting of the AUVSI government affairs committee.
MAPPS has opposed restrictions on civil, commercial use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which are likely to soon become a commonly used platform for aerial geospatial data acquisition. While working with AUVSI to defeat onerous anti-UAS legislation, MAPPS has also sought and in some cases succeeded in securing exemptions for mapping operations. (See, for example, in Congress S.1057, Georgia SB 200, and Idaho SB 1134.)
MAPPS also hosted a policy luncheon at Microsoft’s beautiful technology and innovation center, just one-half block from the DC convention center. Government Affairs Manager John Byrd assembled an outstanding panel of key congressional staff with direct involvement with UAS-related legislation and policy.
There were a number of hot topics discussed during the conference. I attended a session on privacy that was broadcast by C-SPAN. I was able to comment on the MAPPS membership and our interest in UAV and privacy issues, which can be seen at 1:23:30.
There was discussion at the MAPPS luncheon and in other venues that the word "drone" should be stricken from our vocabulary. This may be a difficult term to overcome. However, we can paint a better picture for the practical uses of UAVs for surveying and mapping. If your firm is working with a UAS outside of the United States or with a domestic partner with a COA and have examples of how systems are used for agriculture, oil and gas, or other applications that highlight the safe and responsible benefits of the emerging technology, MAPPS would like to know.
Another topic that attracted considerable attention is the ever-present specter of unfair competition, manifesting itself in various forms. Several MAPPS members and others in attendance at the conference expressed frustration that certificates of authorization (COAs) are being granted to government agencies and universities while the private sector awaits the Federal Aviation Administration plan for civil, commercial COAs for UAS, as required by Congress in sections 332-336 of the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act, Public Law 112-95.
There is concern that agencies and universities are acquiring UAS and utilizing them on projects that can otherwise be accomplished by the private sector. Many MAPPS members recall a Predator from the Customs and Border Patrol being diverted from its core mission guarding the U.S.-Canadian border to capture data on a flood in the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota, resulting in a loss of business for private geospatial firms under contract to the Corps of Engineers, USGS and other federal mapping agencies. Moreover, while current law and regulation permits private citizens and firms to operate UAS for a "hobby,” there is no effective enforcement to prevent abuse of such authority for commercial purposes.
Finally, several conference attendees see an emerging problem – the "dumping” of an estimated 7,500 surplus military UAS to government agencies in the U.S. resulting from the draw-down of combat missions and activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the MAPPS luncheon, congressional staff presented views on the competition issue, including the need to assure agency conformance with the Economy Act and the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) that regulate agencies’ authority to perform services for other agencies.
In preparation for the AUVSI Government Affairs Committee meeting, John Byrd reminded me the first presentation on UAS at a MAPPS meeting was at the Winter Conference in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2008. Our association has continuously kept the membership appraised of UAS policy, technology and opportunities for more than five years.
It goes to show that "in an economy where you are counting every dollar, it is good to know you can count on MAPPS” is not just a slogan, it is a fact.