By: Nathanael Litter, PMP, CP, Associate Vice President

April 24, 2015 is the final day to issue a public comment on the proposed FAA NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) for small commercial UAS.  As we patiently wait like the rest of the geospatial profession for this period to quickly close so that we can move forward, I wanted to express how both Atlantic and I think commercial UAS will impact our business.

I look forward to the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for our profession. Personally, I think the addition of unmanned aircraft will be a great asset, a new tool in our toolbox.  Like many other technologies that have come before it, UAS is sure to add tremendous value but will not provide the best answer for many problems.  The proposed rulemaking will not allow commercial UAS utilization to be a substitute for what we are already accomplishing in remote sensing.

When satellite imagery became more popular a case could be made that collecting imagery from an aircraft was on the way out; however, with satellite imagery came more options, more demand, and it opened a whole new world of mapping. As information became more accessible, it also drove the need for re-purposing and re-defining the traditional airplane or helicopter-based aerial mapping solutions.  I   feel the same will be true for UAV’s. Our profession will simply grow, and at Atlantic, we are ready and excited.

An obvious growth to come from this opportunity will be precision agriculture and volumetric mapping. Both are perfect uses for unmanned aircraft. Information needs to be collected with high frequency and the areas are often quite small.  For larger areas, the mere limitations of the unmanned aircraft itself would pose a problem.  Most UAS payloads that will be approved for commercial operation with this new FAA NPRM simply cannot stay in flight long enough to collect the amount of data an aircraft and crew could handle.  In addition to the limitations of the technology, the federal guidelines that have been established, such as no more than 500 feet altitude and maintaining constant line of sight. But perhaps the most limiting will be the rule that flying over any person not involved in the project would require their knowledge and approval. Therefore, no data could be acquired using a UAS over an urban area, a music festival or any other place where people may gather.

Lastly, we get asked often about this latest tool. And the biggest question, “When will Atlantic invest in a UAV?” The answer is – soon. One of my staff pilots and I will be working towards certification to operate UAS according to the FAA NPRM once the process is finalized.  Our technology team is collecting information, meeting with prospective manufacturers and analyzing our options. We want to invest in the technology that makes the most sense for our clients – we don’t simply want to invest because it is the newest trend. But mostly, we were waiting on the federal ruling to be finalized so that we could legally operate an unmanned aircraft. Once April 24th comes to an end, we are one step closer for the start of what I think will be a great journey.

For more information on the FAA NPRM or to post a public comment on the proposed rules, please visit this website: