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New course at community colleges: how to fly a drone

Ryan Delaney
A small ummanned aircraft used in a course to be taught at Mohawk Valley Community College.

Community colleges in upstate New York are beginning to offer introductory courses to unmanned aircraft, often called drones.

The courses here are just getting off the ground, compared to programs offered at the University of North Dakota and others, where students can major in unmanned aircraft systems.

Mohawk Valley Community College will begin offering a month-long, no-credit course on Saturdays later this month. The same course, created by Brian Pitre of the company SkyOp, has been taught twice at Monroe Community College in Rochester.

The course introduces users to operating very small aircraft, as well as the applications and regulations of the industry, Pitre said.

"At the moment, I’m just trying to provide that information that people are thirsting for in the marketplace, to say, ‘what are these things? Where do I get reliable information? And how do I move forward with this as a potential career?'" he said. 

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Finger Lakes Community College will offer the same course later this year. 

Remotely piloted aircraft are seen as a burgeoning industry. Industry groups say operators and technicians could earn six-figure salaries. Early drone uses include agriculture and surveying pipelines and other monitoring other structures.

"The applications that haven’t been developed yet are probably the most exciting," Pitre said. "And we’re really going to see those develop rapidly."

Upstate New York is home to one of six federally-designated drone testing sites to help develop safety and regulatory guidelines.

Right now, restrictions on using drones beyond hobby flying are tight, but the Federal Aviation Administration has predicted thousands of drones will take to the skis in the next few years. Small aircraft that can fit in the trunk of a car will be the first to take off.

SkyOp is applying for a certificate through the alliance, NUAIR, to fly and test aircraft outdoors.