To match the demand for jobs that require a person to know how to operate a drone, training programs are popping up at universities and institutes across the country. The Phoenix-based Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU) is one school that focuses on training drone pilots. UVU offers graduate degrees in unmanned systems engineering as well as hands-on pilot training courses.
Tuition for UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) pilot certification costs between $3,500 and $4,000, and students don’t need a college degree or any prior experience with drones. UVU, which is for-profit, teaches groups from the public sector (military units, police departments, and federal agencies) and private companies as well as individual students.
CityLab spoke to Paul Dragos, dean of the School of Flight Training at UVU, about the process of becoming a drone pilot.
Tiffany Kelly: What got you interested in drones?
Paul Dragos: First, it’s a huge, ballooning industry. We’re at a point now where, whether we like it or not, drones are going to become part of our everyday life, very similar to automobiles. So I’m excited to get involved in an industry that’s just going to be a huge part of our society. Second is the aviation part. As an ex-Navy pilot, I’ve always been attracted to aviation and flying. It was a very good fit.
Kelly: What’s your role at the university?
Dragos: I manage instructors located around the country and they all report to me. Almost all of our instructors have at least 10 years of experience with radio-controlled aircraft and drones. I also set up special training sessions for police departments and military units.
Kelly: You manage the program to earn a UAV Pilot Certificate. What is the process for that?
Dragos: There’s three steps. The first step is a set of videos, and it’s close to 16 hours of online videos. Each segment is about 20 minutes and at the end of that is a quiz.
The videos will get you familiar with aspects of drones: for example, airspace limitations, flight, how drones work, weather conditions, and more. Once you complete that part, you are sent a simulator that hooks up to your computer. The simulator has a controller that looks exactly like a drone controller. You go through about 12 hours of tasks. When you pass that, you meet with an instructor in person. The hands-on training is typically two days long.
Kelly: Once a person earns a certificate, do they need to meet other requirements with the FAA?
Dragos: You are required to have a drone pilot license—that’s called FAA 107. Our university has a couple of courses on how to prepare for taking the 107 test.
“We have teenagers who play video games, middle-aged people who are looking for a career change, and people with aviation experience.”
Kelly: Do you see people wanting to become a drone pilot as a second career option?