Minnesota Department of Transportation

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MnDOT Policies

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

MnDOT Policy OP006
View/print signed policy (PDF)

Policy statement

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will permit the use of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for the purposes of conducting the business of the agency. The MnDOT Unmanned Aircraft Systems policy pertains to operations by MnDOT employees or by contractors working on behalf of MnDOT. The offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel must approve UAS usage by MnDOT or third parties conducting business for MnDOT.

For UAS operation MnDOT employees must:

  1. Obtain a blanket public Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that permits flights in Class G airspace at or below 400 feet, or
  2. Perform operations that adhere to 14 CFR Part 107 (“Part 107” operations).

Use without adhering to the federal regulations can result in fines and other legal penalties.

When contracting for UAS services the contractor must adhere to the requirements of Part 107. MnDOT will review Section 333 Exemption and COA of third parties, and these contractors will be required to license the vehicle and obtain a commercial operator’s license from the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics as required by Minnesota Statutes §360.521 - Minnesota Statutes §360.675.

The offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel provide assistance to districts and offices that are pursuing or contracting for UAS services.

Reason for policy

  • Provide clear and concise information on the UAS application and usage procedures
  • Identify roles and responsibilities
  • Ensure compliance with state and federal laws, and regulations

Who needs to know this policy

  • Office of the Governor
  • Office of the Commissioner
  • District Engineers and Office Directors
  • Division Business Managers
  • Employees and third parties seeking or obtaining approval to use UAS for MnDOT activities
  • Project Managers
  • Office of Communications

Procedures

MnDOT approval process (applies to both purchasing and contracting UAS use)

Offices or districts must complete a MnDOT UAS Application. The information captured in this document must represent a comprehensive view of the issues surrounding the decision and incorporate feedback from all parties directly impacted.

  • Identify the office or district requesting to use the UAS and whether the office or district will purchase a UAS or hire a contractor
  • Detail and justify the particular aircraft, the particular purpose, time, manner, and location of use
  • Complete an analysis that identifies the benefit of using a UAS
  • Provide a safety and privacy plan that addresses the risks and outlines the risk mitigation processes
  • Provide details on the deliverables, ownership and delivery of the product
  • Email the completed MnDOT UAS Application to *DOT_UASRequest@state.mn.us
  • The offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel must review and approve the content of the MnDOT UAS Application and determine if the content complies with federal and state regulations. The funding plan is the responsibility of the requestor and not subject to the review and approval by the offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel.

UAS purchase process and FAA approval

  • On approval of the purchase, the offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel will coordinate federal approval with the requesting MnDOT office or district for UAS use.
    • MnDOT must obtain FAA approval through a COA or adhere to Part 107
    • Approval from the FAA could take, at a minimum, 60 days
  • The office or district requesting the UAS must identify the funding source for the procurement and follow the
    standard purchase process.

UAS contract process

  • Employees responsible for writing, awarding, negotiating, and managing contracts, including contract administrators, project managers, project engineers, consultant administrators, and other employees who work with consultants, contractors, political subdivisions and grantees must follow the MnDOT Contract Management Policy.
  • The offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel will review the documentation on behalf of the requesting MnDOT office or district for UAS use to determine whether all applicable federal approvals were obtained prior to the operation.

UAS operations by MnDOT personnel

At a minimum, regular field safety policies apply. Requirements and training for MnDOT personnel for UAS usage is on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the offices of Aeronautics, Chief Counsel, and Administration (Emergency Management & Safety Manager). MnDOT training will incorporate FAA operator requirements.

Office of the Governor and Legislature

  • The offices of Communication and Government Affairs will provide timely updates on MnDOT’s use of UAS to the Governor and legislature, as requested.

Forms/instructions

MnDOT Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Use Application

Definitions

Flight

A flight is an individual operation of the UAS from takeoff to landing. Each flight should have defined parameters for area of operation, altitudes, flight path and length of flight.

Mission

The mission includes the specific details and justification for the use of a particular aircraft, the particular purpose, time, manner, and location of use.

Project

A project is a specific task. A project will have a specific purpose, timeframe and defined location. A project may require multiple flights.

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

A UAS is an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) and all the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment necessary to operate the unmanned craft. The UAV is the flying portion of the system, flown by a qualified pilot or operator via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UAV to operate safely.

Responsibilities

Office of Aeronautics

  • Jointly review and concur with the Office of Chief Counsel regarding the content of the Decision Support Tool
  • Jointly coordinate the COA application with the Office of Chief Counsel and the requesting MnDOT office or district for UAS use
  • Assist in registering the UAS and contractors to ensure compliance with state statutes and rules, as necessary
  • Provide necessary coordination with multiple parties to mitigate risk exposure for employees, contractors and the public

Office of Chief Counsel

  • Jointly review and concur with the Office of Aeronautics regarding the content of the Decision Support Tool plan
  • Jointly coordinate the COA application with the Office of Aeronautics and the requesting MnDOT office or district for UAS use

Office of Communications

  • Provide media coordination for each “mission” to ensure clear, consistent messages and responsive attention.

Office of Government Affairs

  • Provide timely updates on MnDOT UAS usage to the Governor and legislature, as requested.

Districts and Offices (program managers and contractors)

  • Prepare and provide the Decision Support Tool to the offices Aeronautics and Chief Counsel for review and approval
  • Prepare the funding plan supporting the UAS (purchase or contract)
  • Notify the Office of Communications on each project
  • Ensure employees authorized to use a UAS read, understand and follow the policy

Employees using Unmanned Aircraft Systems

  • Read, understand and follow the policy
  • Operate the UAS within the restrictions imposed by the FAA through the COA.

Third parties using Unmanned Aircraft Systems while conducting business with MnDOT

  • Read, understand and follow the policy
  • Operate the UAS within the restrictions imposed by the FAA through the COA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a permitted use of a UAS by MnDOT?

A: MnDOT will consider the proposed permitted use of a UAS when it provides cost efficiency, improved data quality, or improved personnel safety over an existing method or process. Examples of permitted use include aerial photography, photogrammetry, bridge inspections, monitoring the use of MnDOT property and structures, mapping construction sites and conditions, communications and marketing.

Q: What are the operating requirements under 14 CFR Part 107?

A: Part 107 sets out the basic requirements for commercial and governmental UAS use. In general, the regulation requires that:

  • The pilot either holds a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate or be a certified Pilot under Part 61
  • The aircraft weight between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds
  • The aircraft is registered with the FAA
  • Operations must be within Class G airspace
  • Operations must be within visual line of sight and conducted during daylight
  • Operations must no occur over people not involved in the operation. MnDOT will consider operations that do not adhere to these regulations when the FAA has provided an exemption to an operator

Q: What safety standards apply?

A: MnDOT UAS operations must follow the current MnDOT field safety procedures and must comply with all FAA safety regulations.

  • Operation of the UAS must be within the restrictions imposed by the FAA
  • Typically, operations less than 400 feet above ground cannot fly over or near people and require a closed-off area. The UAS cannot fly over people unless the person is directly participating in the operation or is located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling UAS.
  • Operations must be during the day and within visual line of sight
  • Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) govern operations above 500 feet for manned aircraft flight. The FARs requires a 1,000-foot vertical separation for any object within a 2,000-foot radius of the vehicle for flight over congested areas.
  • For privacy concerns, MnDOT will implement reasonable precautions to avoid capturing images of the public
  • Any use within five miles of an airport must be coordinated through the Office of Aeronautics
  • UAS must be operated within the line-of-sight of the operator
  • UAS cannot fly into restricted airspace
  • UAS cannot fly near hospital heliports

Exceptions to these requirements may be granted in the approval process on a case-by-case basis, and if federally authorized.

Q: What are the agency requirements regarding media relations and the use of UAS?

A: Each project must be coordinated with the Office of Communications. MnDOT must provide effective media relations that provide clear, consistent messages and responsive attention. Communication about transportation issues must be accurate and follow prescribed procedures to ensure the messages reflect the direction of the department. Employees are required to become familiar with the MnDOT Media Relations Policy.

Q: Does this policy apply when a MnDOT subcontractor uses a UAS?

A: If you plan to use a UAS through a subcontractor, the offices of Aeronautics and Chief Counsel must review and approve the use prior to contracting with the operator. MnDOT may be subject to vicarious liability if the usage occurs without agency review, approval and operational guidance.

Related information

History of policy updates or amendments

New policy

Ownership

Responsible Senior Officer

Susan M. Mulvihill, P.E.
Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer
sue.mulvihill@state.mn.us
651-366-4800

Policy Owner

Cassandra Isackson, P.E.
Director, Office of Aeronautics
cassandra.isackson@state.mn.us
651-234-7210

Policy Contact

Tara Kalar
Associate Legal Counsel
Office of Chief Counsel
tara.kalar@state.mn.us
651-366-3535