Jim Kirkland of Trimble Navigation Ltd. delivered the keynote address.

How can surveying and mapping firms get their representatives in government office to understand and support their concerns? How will unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) affect the market, and how quickly will these changes occur? How can small firms make the most of federal small business contract opportunities? And is the FAA trying to shut down aerial LiDAR?

These and other meaningful topics were addressed at the MAPPS 2012 Winter Conference in Phoenix, Jan. 22-26. The conference opened with a members-only briefing by the MAPPS Political Action Committee (PAC), which supports candidates for federal office who support the free enterprise system and understand the role of the geospatial community in the nation and in the economy. The MAPPS PAC seeks to raise $75,000 for the 2011-2012 election year and is a third of the way toward its goal. “We really need the support of all MAPPS member firm principals and executives to hit our target,” said John Byrd, MAPPS government affairs manager. [See the related article, “How MAPPS Moves Politics.”]

Athough funding is crucial, personal outreach and involvement can also have a big impact. In the keynote address, Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble Navigation Ltd., discussed how lobbying and public relations efforts can be used to win support on important issues. One often-overlooked resource is government staffers. These individuals value face time with executives, Kirkland said, and getting them to champion your cause can make all the difference in getting the issue in front of key decision-makers. Other discussions throughout the conference highlighted examples of how even small investments of time spent networking and building relationships in the local community can pay dividends by gaining advocates.

UAVs were a hot topic at the conference-and for good reason. With the anticipated imminent release from the FAA of a proposed rule governing the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS, also called UAVs or drones), which could allow UAVs weighing less than 55 pounds to operate in U.S. national airspace for commercial purposes as early as 2013, it’s only a matter of time before these aerial data capture tools become a commercial reality. Manufacturers like Boeing are already ramping up production to meet the anticipated demand. Jerry Proctor, deputy to the commanding general for the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, said that while the military has been the primary market for UAVs, the situation is rapidly changing. “We’re at a paradigm,” he said. “The military will be a subset of unmanned flight, and commercial will dominate.”

Reudi Wagner, vice president of imaging at Hexagon, highlighted a number of commercial UAVs that are already a reality, including the Geocopter, Aero Drum, Aeroscout, Swiss UAV, and the Parrot AR.Drone-the latter of which can be controlled with a smartphone. He also noted that two small-area UAS developers, Gatewing and senseFly, were big attractions at Intergeo 2011 in Germany. Some of Leica Geosystems’ newest multispectral cameras and sensors are being integrated into UAVs.

Attendees strengthened business relationships through a variety of networking activities.

Jeff Lovin, Woolpert senior vice president and director of geospatial services, admitted that unmanned aircraft systems are a threat to surveying and mapping firms, but he said they also offer substantial opportunity. He explained how Woolpert has been working closely with universities and government agencies over the past year to help the state of Ohio realize its vision of becoming a primary destination for all UAS developers, manufacturers, suppliers, training and education. As a result, organizations interested in getting involved with UAS have begun turning to Woolpert as a resource. Lovin said Ohio’s situation is an example of what is happening across the country with regard to UAS. “We have to step up and get engaged,” he said.

A practical session on small business procurement addressed opportunities and challenges for businesses seeking to get involved in federal government projects. The Small Business Act requires that the federal government set aside 23 percent of contract dollars for small business, including small and disadvantaged businesses, women-owned businesses, service disabled veteran-owned businesses, and businesses in HUBZones (historically underutilized business zones). However, the Small Business Administration’s size standards determine whether a business entity is eligible for these government programs, and these standards aren’t always easy to decipher. Teaming arrangements and joint ventures can further complicate the process. SBA Arizona Deputy District Director Shivani Dubey provided an overview of small business procurement requirements and noted that firms interested in participating should register throughCentral Contractor Registry andOnline Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA).

A panel composed of AeroMetric’s Pat Olson, Merrick & Company’s Roger Hanson, Riegl USA’s Jim Van Rens and Wysong Enterprises’ Steve Wysong tackled the subject of LiDAR issues with the FAA. According to Olson, the lack of a definition of laser pointers in the FAA Authorization Bill beginning in the spring of 2011 inadvertently resulted in LiDAR being included as a laser pointer. As a result, the use of LiDAR is a criminal act if it impairs a crewmember, and some aircraft with LiDAR systems have been grounded. Olson, who is also the chair of the MAPPS PAC, said the committee has sent a letter to the FAA Acting Administrator requesting action to produce a mutually beneficial, consistent and uniform policy on the safe use of LiDAR. The MAPPS PAC also continues to work with the Aviation subcommittee staff to bring about a meeting of all interested FAA offices and the MAPPS membership. According to Van Rens, industry participation is needed in policy development to help ensure a favorable outcome.

Other topics discussed at the conference included involvement with state GIS councils, cloud computing, the creation of government relations programs within firms, and the state licensing of photogrammetrists. A variety of networking events provided an opportunity to deepen existing business relationships and explore new synergies.

Upcoming MAPPS events include the Federal Programs Conference March 27-28 at the Westin City Center in Washington, D.C., and the Summer Conference July 10-14 at the Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass/Aspen, Colo. For more information, visitwww.mapps.org.