That is the general consensus of aerial mapping professionals who offered their view of the coming year at the January 2013 meeting of MAPPS (Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors) in Miami, Florida.
But before I get into a few of my findings and observations, let me preface this by opining that these are exciting times for anyone in the aerial mapping profession. Note, I did not say “booming times” or “easy money times,” because they are not. But it really seems that for those willing to extend beyond their comfort zones and explore new business possibilities (and accept that occasional failure is a part of this process), the future holds great promise.
Many firms at the MAPPS meeting (and those who responded to a MAPPS-sponsored poll) reported that existing clients seem to be adding projects, and new or potential customers are inquiring about aerial services. Firms, excited about growth potential, have been hiring a few new employees because a shortage of qualified, trained professionals is a very real possibility in the near future. One respondent predicted a “bidding war” for qualified staff members.
Another trend seems to be partnering among some of the newly downsized aerial mapping firms. A rising tide raises all boats, and it’s generally agreed, considering the last devastating downturn in the economy, that it is wiser to stay small and efficient rather than overstaffed and bloated.
Most firms polled by MAPPS predicted that revenue during 2013 would be up primarily due to commercial contracts. However, most firms reported that government contracting is flat, capacity utilization is down, and planned capital investment is also down.
Michael Joos of Michael Baker Jr., Inc., in Pennsylvania cautioned that while “you can bring new technologies to the table, the [client] is not necessarily interested in them.”
Allen Nobles, PLS, in Florida concurred, “You can make a Blue Ray movie but if you go in and [the client] has a Beta tape player, where are you?” He spends a considerable amount of time educating clients and potential clients about the capabilities of new technology. “I love showing them what is possible. I sat with some DOT folks and talked to them about aerial lidar, with my goal being to take the magic out of it. I explain to them how it works until they get comfortable with it and embrace it. Once they figure out what you’ve got, you might very well open up the floodgates. This does not mean you need to cover all the intricacies of how a technology works but you can, for example, explain that a laser scanner is basically just a total station on steroids. They understand that.”
Gary Outlaw of Merrick & Co. in Colorado predicts that inside mapping is a rapidly growing market. Noting that in the next 10 to 20 years we’re going to see a virtual explosion of intelligent buildings, Outlaw said clients are now requiring BIM (building information modeling) in much of the work Merrick does for them. Jim Van Rens of Riegl USA based in Florida agreed and demonstrated how his company’s scanners are being retrofitted and designed for indoor use.
Thermal mapping was the subject of one session, and Aaron Schepers of Cornerstone Mapping in Nebraska and Max Elbaz of Optech in upstate New York detailed how their respective companies (one a service provider, the other a manufacturer) are moving fairly rapidly into a realm of business that didn’t exit last decade. New applications of sensor and camera technologies are making this very possible and attractive to existing and potential customers.
And, of course, around every conversation and panel discussion the mention of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or systems was ever present. Most aerial mapping professionals now look at the commercial application of UAVs in the United States (pending FAA approval for work beginning in 2015) as a done deal, with UAVs serving a very real niche that will need to be filled. Many seem to indicate that UAVs will become another tool in their arsenals.
Onward and upward!
~Neil Sandler, Editor & Publisher