As the commercial drone sector soars into an $89-billion-dollar industry, community colleges are taking notice, launching new UAV programs to fly into an emerging employment frontier.
In North Carolina, Edgecombe Community College and Lenoir Community College both unveiled drone programs earlier this month
LCC’s program will grant students an associate’s degree in drone piloting – the first ever in the state.
“It’s basically a program that is completely wrapped around the traditional pilot program but instead of flying an airplane, we will offer two classes where we will be flying unmanned aircraft systems,” Program Director Jeff Jennings said in a recent interview.
The program received FAA approval in June and will be added as a technical track to the college’s aviation management program. Graduates would be qualified to pilot UAVs for construction, agricultural and videography applications, among others.
ECC will focus on training would-be hobbyists on safety and basic piloting. The “Drones 101” class will be a non-credit, continuing-education program.
“We didn’t want our first class to be too technical,” said J. Lynn Cale, associate vice president of instruction. “Our focus is to have a family day. We are gearing this class toward hobbyists who want to find out more about the applications of drones and about the laws pertaining to drones.” He also noted that hobbyists often end up launching UAV startups.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates the UAV tech sector will spark $600 million in economic benefits for North Carolina by 2025. However, the forecast places North Carolina in 27th place — behind Iowa and Mississippi.
“Companies are looking at North Carolina saying, ‘Let’s get here, let’s figure it out here.’ Because you’ve got the workforce, you’ve got the talent, you’ve got the structures in place in the state,” Kyle Snyder, director of N.C. State University’s drone program said, speaking at a 2014 aviation summit.
“You’ve got the people that can make this happen. You’re the first in flight. You’re the future of flight,” he added.
Other community colleges are targeting the industry with new technical programs as well.
In April, Piedmont Virginia Community College received FAA approval to conduct drone research and development for use by public-safety agencies. The school kicked off a new curriculum program in May that will include UAV pilot training, as well as technical training with a focus on drone deployment within police, fire and first-responder agencies.
In December, Green River College in Auburn, Wash. announced the launch of a drone associates degree program.