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FAA policy is discouraging for LiDAR industry: MAPPS

US: Over the past few months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made it increasingly difficult for operators to perform aerial LiDAR missions by classifying mapping LiDAR as a harmful laser, according to Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS).

Now, with the help of LiDAR manufacturers and operators that make up the MAPPS membership, the association has submitted comments to the 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.

Excerpts from the comments
The policy initiated by the Rotorcraft Directorate is confusing with regard to the airborne LiDAR systems employed as mapping and surveying systems. The airborne LiDAR systems used in airborne mapping are neither surveillance nor searchlight systems.

In Form 70.1 the determination of MPE (Maximum Permissible Exposure) of lasers is well known to the firms operating LiDAR and is the source for determining the nominal ocular hazard distance (NOHD) and extended nominal ocular hazard distance (eNOHD) of laser systems. This method basically determines the distance along the laser beam where the beam does not exceed the MPE. This means that beyond that point the laser power contains no harm for the human eye or in the case of eNOHD, the human eye aided with binoculars or telescopes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is clear on its determinations of its classifications and ratings of systems. The attempt by this policy to create new elements and thereby making the FDA classification null and void by the presence of a component of the laser system is unnecessary and harmful to our member firms. The inclusion of language that states “or a system that includes such a laser (Class IIIa, IIIBb, or IV laser) that through some internal mechanism diffuses the laser energy down…” circumvents FDA process and protocol. The FDA has laser experts that review the submissions of these systems.

The MAPPS firms that are producers of Airborne Mapping LiDAR instrumentation all comply with 21 CFR 1040.10. These systems undergo review by the FDA and all of the producers comply with the standards. These LiDAR systems are designed to be used as airborne mapping systems with careful attention to design and manufacture for the airborne environment.

Furthermore, the FAA Office of General Counsel has opined that LiDAR is not a laser pointer. The incorporation of Mapping LiDAR into this policy will create confusion within the FAA and problems for the airborne mapping profession. The policy is not consistent with the reality of such LiDAR systems or their design. The changes to the FDA classification upends decades of knowledge and experience and creates confusion as to which agency is responsible for the laser classification structure. The lack of clarity and the use of generalised language will only create more problems and misunderstanding in related FAA groups and other government agencies. MAPPS respectfully urge a specific exemption for Mapping LiDAR in14 CFR parts 27 and 29 Rotorcraft.

Source: MAPPS