FAA Drone Pilot CertificateSouthwestern College’s Drone and Aerospace Program Take Flight This Fall

July 16, 2021by helo-10
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Professor Ken Yanow shows the various drones available for students in the drone program.

Interest in the drone industry is as high as some of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can fly, and now Southwestern College has a way for students to gain skills to enter the field for free.

Beginning this fall, students can enroll through the college’s Continuing Education department in the one-unit “ground school” course that identically aligns with the college’s for-credit Drone Technology and Applications Program

Already selected by the Federal Aviation Administration for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Collegiate Training Program (UAS-CTI), Southwestern College’s Drone Technology and Applications Program not only prepares students for the ever-expanding opportunities of drone technology, Southwestern has built important partnerships.

“Being a part of the first group of universities and colleges to be recognized as a UAS-CTI Program participant is a great honor,” said Professor Ken Yanow, director of the Drone Technology and Applications program. “It shows that our program at Southwestern is at the forefront of UAS education. We are eager to work with the FAA in advancing UAS education and expanding a well-qualified UAS workforce.” 

The FAA’s UAS-CTI program recognizes institutions that prepare students for careers in unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones. To qualify for the initiative, schools must offer a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in UAS or a degree with a minor, concentration or certificate in UAS. Schools must provide curriculum covering various aspects of UAS training, including hands-on flight practice, maintenance, uses, applications, privacy concerns, safety and federal policies concerning UAS. 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems have revolutionized the way spatial data is collected and payloads are delivered. Today, drones are being used in everything from surveying, environmental biology and real estate to helping first responders stay safe and solve crimes. After years of advancements from decades-old military and hobby-purposed aircraft, drone and aerospace technologies are creating opportunities for the average citizen.

The demand for these technologies is strong and growing. The Drone Industry Insights website projects that the global market for drone technologies will reach $43.1 billion by 2024, with a continuous growth rate of 20.5% since 2018.

As with any thriving market, it can be difficult finding talent to fill drone-related positions. And the skills gap is rising, despite the high demand in the market, leaving an estimated 90% of drone service providers and related organizations scrambling to fill drone-related positions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. 

By enrolling in Southwestern College’s non-credit program, students can take their first two classes for free and then move on to credit courses to earn a certificate recognized by the industry.

The course sequence for the full certificate includes NC 327 and NC328 (free classes that are the equivalent of the paid courses GEOG107 and GEOG 108). Students interested in earning the full certificate would then enroll in AERO 108, ART 188 and FTMA 108.

Southwestern College’s certificate programs offer pathways for students from a variety of disciplines to be trained in drone technology and applications while also accessing real-work experience in this industry through the college’s partnerships, such as the Chula Vista Police Department.

Chula Vista Police are using the roof of the Math, Science and Engineering building at Southwestern’s Chula Vista campus as one of the three large sites across the city. (Southwestern Chula Vista campus, Chula Vista Police Department headquarters and Bay View.) These sites cover all of Chula Vista, allowing local law enforcement to see crime that would have been invisible otherwise.

“Real-time information is critical,” Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said during a news conference in March, adding that a lack of information can sometimes put both the public and police officers at risk. 

Chula Vista Police began with a single drone within a one-mile radius, and now the police department’s use of drones is seen as a model for departments across the nation.

The Southwestern Drone Technology and Applications Program provides students with skills in UAS operations and data collection, prepares students to pass the FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot license exam, and provides the fundamental knowledge necessary to join the UAS industry (or to plan, create, and develop a UAS-based business). 

For more information on Southwestern College’s Drone Technology and Applications program, please contact Professor Ken Yanow at [email protected].



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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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