TRAVERSE CITY — There’s exciting news — sometimes called a buzz — coming from Northwestern Michigan College.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted NMC $90,000 to train 40 high school teachers — and by transfer, students — the fundamentals of Unmanned Aerial Systems and equip each with their own multi-rotor unit to use with their own students. UAS are commonly referred to as “drones.”
It follows a push at the state and national level to develop a workforce that caters to a growing UAS industry. The community college in Traverse City hopes to aid local high schools in starting their own drone programs, setting up a pipeline to UAS programs at two- and four-year universities like NMC.
Congress appropriated $5 million to the FAA in the 2020 fiscal year to grant projects like NMC’s. Competition for the grant was “rigorous.”
“You are to be commended for an extraordinary response to the FAA opportunity,” grant manager Miranda Haywood wrote in the award letter.
NMC has been operating its own drone program for 10 years — which is quite a long time considering the first consumer drones from the major manufacturer DJI became available in 2013. It trains those seeking their commercial drone pilots license (Part 107) and those who are looking to work on more advanced drone operations like Amazon’s Prime Air service.
In 2020, the FAA selected NMC as a UAS Collegiate Training Program, the only one in Michigan. It operates a fleet of UAS that rival institutions much larger than them.
“We have a pretty robust program for degree-seeking students, and we also train professionals like law enforcement, the DNR and survey companies,” said Tony Sauerbrey, NMC’s UAS program manager. “What we’re doing is preparing people, students to enter the UAS industry. It’s not just teaching S.T.E.M. or engineering-type things but actually getting out there and doing the operations you can do in this industry.”
The college expects to roll out the training during late spring to early summer of 2022 at its private airfield in Yuba. Teachers from all around Michigan will be able to participate. The program will include a 10-week course to prepare teachers to obtain their commercial license.
Sauerbrey said the public’s perception on drones is changing. When drones were first introduced to the consumer sphere it was technology borrowed from the military — and not always for the best uses.
“Now that we’re starting to understand its an amazing thing for aerial photography, doing land survey, agricultural work and inspections, the public perception is definitely getting better,” Sauerbrey said.
He also said UAS safety is improving with better pilot training and drone technology. Remote Identifications regulations from the FAA take effect Sept., 16 2022 — where drones manufactured from then will need to be compliant with the Remote ID mandate that becomes required by all operators Sept. 16, 2023.
“The industry is really just getting started,” Sauerbrey said. “We’re really waiting for more regulations to develop so we can start doing more things like flying beyond the visual line of sight. It will be more safely integrated into our airspace.”
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