The National Academies

NCHRP 20-44(47) [RFP]

UAS Operations Practical Skills Pilot Program for State DOTs
[ NCHRP 20-44 (NCHRP Implementation Support Program) ]

Posted Date: 2/28/2023

  Project Data
Funds: $200,000
Contract Time: 18 months
Authorization to Begin Work: 8/31/2023 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Sid Mohan
   Email: smohan@nas.edu
RFP Close Date: 4/24/2023
Fiscal Year: 2022


Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been used to support state department of transportation (DOT) activities, including surveying, inspection, construction, and emergency management. Most state DOTs operate under CFR 14 Part 107 rules, which require pilots to pass a knowledge exam. However, the exam is knowledge-based and does not include a practical flight skills component. Not verifying flight proficiency represents a significant barrier and source of liability for states wishing to use drones. Currently, there is no nationally accepted flight proficiency certification or practical test standard (PTS) for small UAS pilots to demonstrate practical knowledge, competent controller operation/manipulation skills, and safe, efficient, and effective operation of UAS.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a “Basic Maneuvering” test, with protocols for organizations to use. However, NIST does not provide guidance on minimum skill levels or certify organizations to administer their exams. The Basic Maneuvering test has several limitations when used as a standardized flight proficiency exam. Building the test is costly and cumbersome to store. Administering the exam requires access to a large level field and a significant labor investment of the proctor to call out instructions and then manually grade the images. Additionally, varying environmental conditions (wind, lighting, etc.) can make score standardization, test-over-test, difficult.

Through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) incentive program, South Carolina DOT and Clemson University developed a computer simulation that provides different scenarios of UAS operations, including the NIST Basic Maneuvering test where pilots can navigate using a generic drone controller or game pad. Such a computer simulation eliminates the barriers previously identified as it doesn’t need to be stored, is self-proctoring/scoring, and the environmental conditions are consistent. The only hardware needed is a computer with minimal processing power, access to the internet, and a simulator controller. 

These two examples are valuable tools for state DOT UAS operations, but as a standalone, these resources do not suffice to satisfy flight proficiency for state DOT UAS operations. Moreover, the scan team report for NCHRP Project 20-68A, Scan 17-01, “Successful Approaches for the Use of Unmanned Aerial System by Surface Transportation Agencies” noted the need to “establish flight-specific training requirements for all UAS operators…” and to “conduct regular training and refresher training programs to ensure compliance with regulations and policy.”


The objective of this research project is to develop and pilot method(s) for state DOT UAS pilots to demonstrate practical skills of UAS operations that complement the CFR 14 Part 107 knowledge exam. The method(s) can be undertaken virtually, in a field operation setting, or in a combination of both.


NCHRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the project objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished with existing or emerging technologies. Proposals must present the proposers' current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective.

To realize the objective, the following tasks and their related deliverables are proposed, at a minimum. Proposers may recommend additional tasks and deliverables to support the project objective.

Task 1. Develop draft UAS initial flight proficiency guidance. This should consider the pertinent areas of UAS flight operations, including but not limited to the standards referenced to in Private Pilot ‒ Airplane Airman Certification Standards and Remote Pilot ‒ Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standards.

Deliverable: A draft document on the UAS initial flight proficiency guidance.

Task 2. Develop draft testing framework based on the guidance developed in Task 1 that can be easily implementable by state DOTs. The testing framework should identify readily available hardware and software that can be used and identify field requirements for the practical test.

Deliverables: (a) a draft testing framework, and (b) a user guide for the testing framework.

Task 3. Conduct a workshop for up to 15 participants to evaluate the draft guidance and framework. The participants will have different levels of flight proficiency to fully test the guidance and framework.

Deliverable: A report on the conduct of the workshop.

Task 4. Using the lessons learned from the workshop, develop final guidance and framework.

Deliverables: (a) final document on UAS initial flight proficiency guidance, (b) final testing framework, and (c) final user guide.

Task 5. Conduct a “train the trainer” workshop for up to 15 DOT staff to train them on how to implement the flight proficiency guidance and the testing framework within their organizations.

Deliverables: (a) training materials, and (b) a comprehensive guide on the steps that states need to take to certify UAS pilots.


The locations for the workshops for Tasks 3 and 5 will be determined later. The costs for the workshop, including invitational travel for the workshop attendees (not including members of the research team), should be included in the detailed budget for the research. For the purpose of estimating these costs, assume that the workshop will be held at a TRB facility (Keck Center in Washington, DC, or the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA). NCHRP will cover costs associated with NCHRP panel member travel. Catering services for all participants including panel members should be included in the detailed budget for the research.

All training materials developed for the execution of the tasks must be organized in a comprehensible and distributable format for future use by project participants, as well as for the use of other organizations not participating in this project. All data files generated during the project will be provided to NCHRP.

In developing the research plan and tasks, proposers should build in appropriate checkpoints with the NCHRP project panel including, at a minimum, (1) a kick-off web-enabled meeting to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date; and (2) at least three additional web-enabled teleconferences tied to NCHRP review and approval of any other interim deliverables as deemed appropriate.

Costs for meetings with the NCHRP project panel, including hosting of web-enabled meetings, the interim meeting venue, and travel costs for NCHRP panel members to attend the interim meeting will be paid by NCHRP. The proposed budget should include travel costs for project team members to attend the interim meeting and any engagement events included.

The proposal should contain sufficient information about the anticipated content and design of the final deliverables to demonstrate an understanding of the audience for the research results and of effective dissemination and implementation pathways. Following receipt of the draft final deliverables, the remaining 3 months shall be for NCHRP review and comment and for contractor preparation of the final deliverables.


A. The Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals for the Transportation Research Board’s Cooperative Research Programs were revised in May 2022. Please take note of the new and revised text which is highlighted in yellow.

B. Proposals must be submitted as a single PDF file with a maximum file size of 10 MB. The PDF must be formatted for standard 8 ½” X 11” paper, and the entire proposal must not exceed 60 pages (according to the page count displayed in the PDF). Proposals that do not meet these requirements will be rejected. For other requirements, refer to chapter V of the instructions. 

C. The Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals for the Transportation Research Board’s Cooperative Research Programs have been modified to include a revised policy and instructions for disclosing Investigator Conflict of Interest. For more information, refer to chapter IV of the instructions. A detailed definition and examples can be found in the CRP Conflict of Interest Policy for Contractors. The proposer recommended by the project panel will be required to submit an Investigator Conflict of Interest and Disclosure Form as a prerequisite for contract negotiations.

D. Proposals will be rejected if any of the proposed research team members work for organizations represented on the project panel. The panel roster for this project can be found at https://www.mytrb.org/OnlineDirectory/Committee/Details/6797. Proposers may not contact panel members directly; this roster is provided solely for the purpose of avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

E. Proprietary Products - If any proprietary products are to be used or tested in the project, please refer to Item 6 in the Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals

F. Proposals are evaluated by the NCHRP staff and project panels consisting of individuals collectively knowledgeable in the problem area. The project panel will recommend their first choice proposal considering the following factors: (1) the proposer's demonstrated understanding of the problem; (2) the merit of the proposed research approach and experiment design; (3) the experience, qualifications, and objectivity of the research team in the same or closely related problem area; (4) the plan for ensuring application of results; (5) how the proposer approaches inclusion and diversity in the composition of their team and research approach, including participation by certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises; and, if relevant, (6) the adequacy of the facilities. A recommendation by the project panel is not a guarantee of a contract. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS - the contracting authority for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) will conduct an internal due diligence review and risk assessment of the panel’s recommended proposal before contract negotiations continue.

Note: The proposer's approach to inclusion and diversity as well as participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises should be incorporated in Item 11 of the proposal. 

G. Copyrights - All data, written materials, computer software, graphic and photographic images, and other information prepared under the contract and the copyrights therein shall be owned by the National Academy of Sciences. The contractor and subcontractors will be able to publish this material for non-commercial purposes, for internal use, or to further academic research or studies with permission from TRB Cooperative Research Programs. The contractor and subcontractors will not be allowed to sell the project material without prior approval by the National Academy of Sciences. By signing a contract with the National Academy of Sciences, contractors accept legal responsibility for any copyright infringement that may exist in work done for TRB. Contractors are therefore responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for use of copyrighted material in TRB's Cooperative Research Programs publications. For guidance on TRB's policies on using copyrighted material please consult Section 5.4, "Use of Copyrighted Material," in the Procedural Manual for Contractors. 

H. Proposals should include a task-by-task breakdown of labor hours for each staff member as shown in Figure 4 in the Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals. Proposals also should include a breakdown of all costs (e.g., wages, indirect costs, travel, materials, and total) for each task using Figures 5 and 6 in the brochure. Please note that TRB Cooperative Research Program subawards (selected proposers are considered subawards to the National Academy of Sciences, the parent organization of TRB) must comply with 2 CFR 200 – Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. These requirements include a provision that proposers without a "federally" Negotiated Indirect Costs Rate Agreement (NICRA) shall be subject to a maximum allowable indirect rate of 10% of Modified Total Direct Costs. Modified Total Direct Costs include all salaries and wages, applicable fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 of each lower tier subaward and subcontract. Modified Total Direct Costs exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, rental costs, tuition remission, scholarships and fellowships, participant support costs and the portion of each lower tier subaward and subcontract in excess of $25,000. 

I. The required technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products” should (a) provide recommendations on how to best put the research findings/products into practice; (b) identify possible institutions that might take leadership in applying the research findings/products; (c) identify issues affecting potential implementation of the findings/products and recommend possible actions to address these issues; and (d) recommend methods of identifying and measuring the impacts associated with implementation of the findings/products. Implementation of these recommendations is not part of the research project and, if warranted, details of these actions will be developed and implemented in future efforts.

The research team will be expected to provide input to an implementation team consisting of panel members, AASHTO committee members, the NCHRP Implementation Coordinator, and others in order to meet the goals of NCHRP Active Implementation: Moving Research into Practice, available at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP_ActiveImplementation.pdf 

J. If the team proposes a Principal Investigator who is not an employee of the Prime Contractor, or if the Prime Contractor is proposed to conduct less than 50% of the total effort (by time or budget), then section five of the proposal should include: (1) a justification of why this approach is appropriate, and (2) a description of how the Prime Contractor will ensure adequate communication and coordination with their Subcontractors throughout the project. 

K. All budget information should be suitable for printing on 8½″ x 11″ paper. If a budget page cannot fit on a single 8½″ x 11″ page, it should be split over multiple pages. Proposers must use the Excel templates provided in the Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals for the Transportation Research Board’s Cooperative Research Programs.

L. The requirement for Quarterly Progress Reports, as described on page 9 of the Procedural Manual for Contractors Conducting Research, is waived.

Proposals must be uploaded via this link: https://www.dropbox.com/request/owcnQWNayCdQ4JZvAVV5 
Proposals are due not later than 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on 4/24/2023.

This is a firm deadline, and extensions are not granted. In order to be considered for award, the agency's proposal accompanied by the executed, unmodified Liability Statement must be in our offices not later than the deadline shown, or the proposal will be rejected.

Liability Statement

The signature of an authorized representative of the proposing agency is required on the unaltered statement in order for TRB to accept the agency's proposal for consideration. Proposals submitted without this executed and unaltered statement by the proposal deadline will be summarily rejected. An executed, unaltered statement indicates the agency's intent and ability to execute a contract that includes the provisions in the statement.

Here is a fillable PDF version of the Liability Statement. A free copy of the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader is available at https://www.adobe.com.

General Notes

1. According to the provisions of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 21, which relates to nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs, all parties are hereby notified that the contract entered into pursuant to this announcement will be awarded without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.

2. The essential features required in a proposal for research are detailed in the current brochure entitled "Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals". Proposals must be prepared according to this document, and attention is directed specifically to Section V for mandatory requirements. Proposals that do not conform with these requirements will be rejected.

3. The total funds available are made known in the project statement, and line items of the budget are examined to determine the reasonableness of the allocation of funds to the various tasks. If the proposed total cost exceeds the funds available, the proposal is rejected.

4. All proposals become the property of the Transportation Research Board. Final disposition will be made according to the policies thereof, including the right to reject all proposals.

5. Potential proposers should understand that follow-on activities for this project may be carried out through either a contract amendment modifying the scope of work with additional time and funds, or through a new contract (via sole source, full, or restrictive competition).

To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5384