Demand for drone operators is hot.
That’s why Dowling College’s School of Aviation has launched a series of four courses that allow a student to minor in drones. For a newly minted pilot, being able to operate a drone is more than good cocktail conversation, it’s also practical professional planning.
“This career, this field is growing astronomically fast. There is a lot of opportunity in it," says James Record, the adjunct professor at the Dowling College School of Aviation who is leading the drone course. "It’s not just in aviation. It touches everything.”
For example, drones pilots are hired for positions in agriculture, sports video filming, maritime surveillance, runway inspection, solar panel and wind turbine inspection, aerial surveys of real estate and insurance claims servicing, to name a few. Previously, some of these jobs would have required a helicopter. Drone pilots are now preferred because they are so much cheaper. Currently, there are only about 3,500 licensed drone pilots in the U.S., Record says.
To become a drone pilot, you first have to be a pilot. Then, you have to be certified by the Federal Aviation Authority to operate drones. The drone courses at Dowling College prepares students for the FAA certification. Most students at Dowling College School for Aviation are licensed pilots by the time they are sophomores.
“Right now there are more jobs available in the drone flying industry than there are commercial drone operators,” Record says. “Every day, I look at 10 or 12 or 15 jobs in just the Long Island tri-state area that go unfilled. As far as nationwide, there are hundreds and hundreds of jobs that don’t get filled because there are not enough drone operators.”
And that, combined with the new-and-cool factor, is appealing to students. The Drone Aviation course at Dowling College has 27 students and was the first course to reach full occupancy, Record says.
Dowling College is not alone in offering drone aviation courses. For example, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., Kansas State University, Salina in Salina, Kansas, and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. all have various levels of coursework in drone aviation and engineering.