During one of the plenary sessions of the International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) in Denver, the discussion turned to the question of how soon or "if" the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would give approval for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to become integrated with the National Airspace System (NAS) despite the recently selected test sites to set policy . Some comments by panelists:
- Lewis Graham, GeoCue: "You can buy UAS today and get all equipment necessary. You can fly your agriculture field today." Graham noted that UASs can be flown but it is the mode in which you make money that needs to be made clear.
- Layton Hobbs from Woolpert: Nobody knows; [FAA} have overwhelming challenges; Privacy issues will be even harder to tackle
- Amar Nayegandhi from Dewberry: "Don't use the term "drone"; push the use of the word 'UAS.'"
- Matt Bethel from Merrick & Co. does not believe that the FAA will allow operation any time soon for UAS.
Several members echoed the observation that the overall acceptance of UAS parallels that of semi-autonomous cars. The technology is moving so rapidly that whether we are talking about unmanned or semi-autonomous cars or aerial vehicles, each will eventually invade highways and airways.
In a separate presentation, Nick Palatiello of MAPPS, provide a list of legislative activity from the U.S. Congress including:
- HR 1604 - aka "Map it Once, Use it Many." The bill has been re-introduced into the current session by Congressman Lamborn (R-CO). Hearings have been heard but the bill has not been brought to the floor for a vote and may likely die in this session as well.
- HR 1707 - Border Security Results Act - by Congressman McCaul (R-TX) calls for the use of UAS technology to protect the borders.
- HR 1382 - Digital Coast Act - by Congressman Rupersberger (D-MD) - "provides an enabling platform integrating geospatial data, decision support tools, training, and best practices to address coastal and emergency management issues and enhance coastal economies and ecosystem services by helping communities with cost-effective and participatory solutions."
Also, nine states now have a law or regulation for UAS usage and 14 other states have introduced legislation.
The recently passed Farm Bill includes money for forestry inventory and the Omnibus bill includes funding for coastal LiDAR provisions.