Drone Pilot SchoolCollege offers certification and degree programs in drone piloting

August 3, 2021by helo-10

  • San Juan College began offering a one-year certification program and a two-year degree program in drones during the fall semester.
  • The college had been offering classes in drone operation for 15 years.
  • Instructor Brian Seavey says the career possibilities for drone operators are wide and varied.

FARMINGTON — While he doesn’t deny that learning to operate a drone can be a lot of fun, San Juan College instructor Brian Seavey knows his students have transitioned to seeing the larger picture when they start thinking about how they can use that skill to carve out a living for themselves.

“It migrates from being a toy to something they can make a career out of,” Seavey said. “That’s exciting and sobering at the same time. We don’t think of it as a toy, but a tool.”

While the college has been offering classes in drone operation for the past 15 years, this fall marked the first time they were part of a one-year certification program or two-year degree program under the heading of small unmanned aerial systems. And Seavey was pleased to see all three students in the program not only complete their first semester, but pass their remote pilot licensing exam from the Federal Aviation Administration and earn a remote pilot certificate.

More:GenCyber returns to San Juan College for second year

According to a press release from the college, the certificate demonstrates that the pilot understands the regulations, operating requirements and procedures to fly a drone safely.

Brian Seavey

Seavey said the career possibilities for drone operators are wide and varied, ranging from jobs as civilian contractors for the military or the government to the real estate, agriculture, surveying, security, industry, academic and entertainment fields. Government agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service use drone photography to map trails and archaeological sites or track wildlife, he said, while real estate agents often use it to promote their properties.

More:San Juan College receives $30,000 grant from Chevron

One of the more glamorous applications for the skill is shooting video for motion pictures or television, Seavey said. He explained his program already has built a close relationship with San Juan College’s digital media arts & design department, headed by Luke Renner, who has helped develop San Juan County into a regular stop for filmmakers.

Seavey said the certification and degree programs are in their infancy now, and enrollment in the programs in the fall likely was hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he expects to see more students enroll in the programs in the year ahead, explaining it’s a relatively easy sell.

An overhead image of an archaeological site captured by a San Juan College drone pilot.

“It’s extremely engaging,” he said. “It’s hands on, as well as a technical-type program.”

Still, it’s not for everybody, he said, explaining the technical side of the program does require a degree of maturity. There is a lot of reading, he said, but there is also a great deal of outside-the-classroom activity.

Students begin the program by learning to operate small, basic drones in an indoor setting. Seavey said that approach is done for safety reasons, allowing students to pick up basic operator skills without having to worry about losing control of their vehicle in a boundless setting.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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