The FAA estimates that the number of certified U.S. drone pilots will increase from 107,800 in 2017 to 422,000 in 2021. But, the agency is not specific about how many of these pilots will earn from drone-related work. Up till date, the FAA has issued more than 63,000 remote pilot certificates and more is expected as some colleges have now started offering drone training courses.
Richard Varney is a hot-air balloon pilot who normally spends his weekends floating with tourists around central Massachusetts. But on a certain Sunday, he went to a local community college and learned how to fly a drone. He reckons that the knowledge will help his business become more varied by providing aerial photos of local towns to his clients. There are many business people just like Varney, all looking for new ways to expand their businesses with drones. Now, 15 community colleges across the country can make their dreams come true by teaching how-to courses on drones. A recent study by MIT Technology Review noted that this new educational trend has been on the increase since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requested certification from remote pilots. Community colleges are not alone. Some four-year colleges and even private organizations have started offering drone training courses, but if you are looking for diversity, then the community colleges are an interesting choice. In community colleges, the curriculum is offered as a “workforce development” or “workforce solution” course and designed to teach practical skills needed for real jobs.
At Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts, a course on how to use drones consisted of a day of indoor preparation for the FAA exam, and one day of practical flight training, which involved how to fly a 7.5-pound drone.
For the emergency-services workers, they need the license for search-and-rescue work and to document traffic accidents, while others need it to make their jobs easier and better. School admins and course instructors said that the program is a response to demand and not an attempt to hop on a fad. They believe that people should be prepared for the effect that drones will have on society as a whole and that is what their courses teach.
The U.S. trade group AUVSI, predicts that the drone industry will create 50,529 new jobs between 2015 and 2025. Bijan Vasigh is an economics and finance professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was part of the research team that came up with this figure and he stated that a lot of these jobs will require some type of specialized degrees. He also thinks that community colleges are perfect places to learn the basic skills needed to fly, fix, and monitor small drones.
Since 2015, Fred Coeburn has taught over 100 students how to operate drones at the Mountain Empire Community College in Virginia. His training is focused on teaching both the young and old who are unemployed to be drone operators and technicians. Coeburn believes that these skills will attract drone-related companies to the area.