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Insight  |  Nov 08, 2018  |  Arora

Navigating the New Geospatial Data Act: The Future of Location-Based Technology

  • Geospatial Data Act

By: Gil Neumann

In case you missed it, the Geospatial Data Act (with critical changes from initial versions to remove exclusivity and agreed to by both the Senate and House in 2017) was included as part of H.R. 302: the 5-year FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that the President signed on October 5th. The Geospatial Data Act (GDA) formalizes existing federal data governance structures related to geospatial data, encourages efficient cooperation between organizations, and rectifies what many experts consider to be longstanding shortcomings in national standards and policies governing the collection and use of geospatial data.


Key Parts of the Geospatial Data Act:

  • Section 2 defines the term ‘geospatial data’ for the US federal government.
  • Section 3 clarifies the role of a Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).
  • Section 4 clarifies the role of a National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC).
  • Section 5 describes the importance of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).
  • Section 8 describes the creation and operation of the ‘GeoPlatform’ as an electronic service that provides access to geospatial data and metadata for geospatial data.

Working Toward a Common Vision

One of the biggest challenges for the expanse of government is to agree on a common vision to make it easier for federal, state, and local agencies to integrate location-based data into practical solutions that benefit their constituents. State and local governments have been largely successful in implementing individual geospatial platforms that provide data and maps to the general public. However, this remains a challenge within the individualized environments of federal departments and the agencies and lines of business within each. The passage of the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) presents new and exciting opportunities for the public to benefit from data sharing and practical application from analysis and reporting.

What does this require of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a part of the Executive Branch? It means that within the coming months (and before the next five years), the agency must work collaboratively with the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) to implement the Geospatial Data Act (GDA). The FAA is now explicitly required by the Legislative Branch to utilize geospatial data for analysis, problem solving, and enhancing situational awareness, and should examine ways to share useful information with the public.

To execute this Congressional mandate and serve the public, FAA leadership must develop a strategy for “advancing geographic information and related geospatial data activities,” as well as align existing geospatial-related data requirements across the FAA with recommendations that correspond to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) requirements. Those strategies and requirements should align with stakeholder needs, rather than focus solely on agency needs, with an idealistic focus on providing stewardship and a return on investment in the form of data and maps.

Leadership would do well to build upon the work already established through geospatial-based programs such as:

  • Airports GIS – Collection, verification, and dissemination standards for aeronautical survey data required to be captured as part of projects in and around airports.
  • B4UFLY Mobile App – A practical application that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.
  • Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT) – A software system that models aircraft performance in space and time to estimate fuel consumption, emissions, noise, and air quality consequences.

Examining Best Practices

Agency leadership should also closely examine the best practices for the utilization of geospatial data suggested in research and reports conducted through the FAA-sponsored Airports Cooperative Research Program (ACRP). These include solutions that are put forward for airside and landside planning, design, construction, and implementation at airports, as well as for communities served by aviation or responding to federal airspace and airport regulations. ACRP solutions and reports to investigate should include, at a minimum:

Collectively, efforts such as these should help provide the framework for a Strategic Plan and a Concept of Operation, both including strategic and tactical accountability check-ins along the way for milestones and deliverables. In addition, these perspectives can pave the way for a robust understanding of numerous business processes to build, adjust, and plan for the funding of the Agency’s System Architecture, and eventually an Agency-wide Implementation Plan.

Moving Forward

If this vision is successfully accomplished, the FAA could pave the way for continued transformation and innovation with respect to location-based technology, productive analysis and reporting, and practical applications that benefit the public and improve the quality of air travel for years to come. Arora Engineers, Inc. stands ready with our strategic partners and industry colleagues to support leaders in the Legislative and Executive Branch, including Department and Agency executives, the FGDC, State and Local government officials, our fellow citizens, and the geospatial data community as the requirements of the GDA are developed and put into practice. Together we can be “Rethinking Infrastructure”—including data assets and application—to improve our quality of life.

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