sUAS Information for DOI Bureaus

Science Center Objects

The DOI’s UAS strategy strives to incorporate this new class of aircraft into DOI’s government-owned and commercially contracted aircraft fleet to support the data collection needs of DOI science.

Important Update on Secretary's Order 3379 and Blue Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems - October 6, 2020

DOI Secretary's Order 3379 - Temporary Cessation of Non-Emergency Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fleet Operations - January 29, 2020

Clear demonstration of the superior science, improved safety, and increased savings DOI can achieve with UAS technology has allowed DOI’s successful operational implementation to skyrocket. Today’s DOI UAS strategy consists of the Office of Aviation Services (OAS), responsible for all institutional activities (operator accreditation, certification of platform airworthiness, fleet management, sUAS acquisitions, and safety policy); the USGS NUPO, accountable for the research and integration activities required to keep up with UAS technology and evolving data acquisition needs; and the growing number of Bureau UAS field offices meeting the increasing demand for UAS data collection.

DOI sUAS Pilot Certification

The operational information derived from early NUPO research missions was used by OAS to develop the first set of sUAS pilot training materials which were given to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for review. After review and verification of these materials, the FAA granted the DOI, as a public agency, the ability to self-certify its sUAS operators. The DOI’s ability to certify sUAS operators has since evolved into a process encompassing initial training, certification, proficiency, and currency. 

To be officially certified as a DOI sUAS operator, employees must:
Obtain an FAA Remote Pilot Certification

Then pass a A-450 sUAS Basic Remote Pilot Course
   Each DOI bureau schedules and host their own independent A-450 courses
   USGS employees may request A-450 training by submitting and email request to uas@usgs.gov

Upon successful completion of an A-450 course, DOI UAS pilots are certified to fly only the specific platforms included in the training course. Certification to fly any additional type of sUAS platform requires the completion of platform-specific A-454 Small UAS Operator Add-On courses. Each A-454 course is designed for a specific platform and can be provided by the platform vendor as part of the purchase process or by bureau operators currently certified on the platform.

Once certified on a platform pilots are required to maintain proficiency by performing at least three take-offs and landings every 90 days. DOI remote pilots must also take an A-452R refresher course every two years to get up-to-date information on the UAS program and learn any new best-practices.

Currently all USGS A-450 classes have been suspended as a result of Secretarial Order 3379, which extended the DOI UAS grounding of the current DOI sUAS platforms indefinitely. Ongoing pilot proficiency and certification flights are only allowed as part of an emergency response or a DOI waiver approved emergency preparedness operation. New A-450 classes and associated A-454 classes will be offered when exempt (non-designated) platforms are adopted by the DOI bureaus and available for use.

DOI sUAS Platform Procurement

The DOI’s platform acquisition strategy treats sUAS as an aircraft based on the FAA’s classification and therefore applies the same procedures to sUAS procurement and management as they do manned aircraft. According to DOI OPM-11 DOI Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), only the OAS may purchase sUAS, and once purchased the platform is classified as fleet aircraft and remains under OAS’s ownership. To acquire platforms OAS works in collaboration with DOI bureaus to develop contract solicitations and establishes indefinite-delivery and indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts for specific sUAS platforms.

To acquire a DOI UAS Fleet platform once an IDIQ contract has been put in place DOI Bureau’s must:
Complete OAS-13U DOI Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Acquisition Request Form, which identifies the specific number and type of sUAS to be purchased. And then submit the completed form to the appropriate Bureau National Aviation Manager
AND
Complete OAS-93U Fleet Information Document, which provides the required funding information and approvals. 
USGS Exception – USGS offices are required to complete a USGS Inter/Intra-Agency Agreement (IAA) instead of OAS-93U. The USGS IAA should include platform specifications and the accounting information required to transfer funds from the purchasing Bureau to OAS, and once completed should be processed through the office’s administration.

All DOI bureau acquisition of sUAS platforms was suspended as part of Secretarial Order 3379 until October 2020 when the DOI Secretary issued a memo making the five sUAS platforms approved under the Department of Defense Defense Innovation Unit’s (DIU) Blue sUAS Initiative exempt from this order. But although these Blue sUAS are available on the General Services Administration schedule and GSA Advantage, within the DOI acquisition of any platforms remains solely a function of OAS/AQD and must therefore be acquired thru existing procedures. Additional information about each of these Blue sUAS can be found at: https://www.diu.mil/autonomy-blue-suas.

sUAS Compatible Sensor Procurement

sUAS compatible sensors may be purchased through normal DOI procurement processes and don’t require coordination with OAS. However, pursuant to DOI Operational Procedures Memoranda (OPM)-11, only sensors approved by OAS may be mounted on DOI sUAS platforms. Therefore, before purchasing a sensor intended for use on DOI sUAS platforms, bureaus should confirm with either OAS or NUPO that it has been or soon will be approved for DOI use.

End-product Contracting

The exponential growth of FAA-approved commercial airborne companies means that many of DOIs airborne data collection missions could be pursued through end-product contracts rather than DOI-owned fleet operations. This process allows DOI scientists to contract end-products (images, maps, survey data, etc.) from commercial companies approved by the FAA to operate in the National Airspace System. No OAS involvement is required for end-product contracts but the scientist must write only data specifications and not direct or exercise any operational control over how the data is acquired. To date, both the NUPO and other DOI groups have successfully contracted with numerous commercial companies that have provided excellent data. This process has been incredibly beneficial when data was needed quickly to support localized emergency response needs.

Operational Field Offices

The creation of operational field offices, i.e., distributed locations across the United States that house both trained sUAS operators and technology, is crucial to addressing the rapidly increasing demand from USGS and DOI scientists for access to sUAS data collection. Providing access to these working groups also provides a cost-efficient in-house method for supporting DOI scientists with only infrequent and/or unique UAS data collection needs.

Other Resources:
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

DOI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) UAS

DOI National Park Service UAS

NASA UAS Project

NOAA UAS Program

USDA U.S. Forest Service UAS

US Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)