Drone mania is starting to grip the area.
New Jersey’s selection as one of six national testing sites for drone technology will allow a local college to capitalize on what is expected to be the next big step in the evolution of aviation.
Atlantic Cape Community College, based in Mays Landing, plans to offer a new course in the spring on drone technology called “Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Systems.” The course is part of the college’s aviation studies program.
Atlantic Cape spokeswoman Stacey Clapp said the college anticipated growing interest in the field of unmanned aircraft and began planning for the course well in advance of the Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement Dec. 30 that New Jersey would be a drone-testing site.
Although usually associated with the military, drones also are used for civilian purposes in border patrol, law enforcement, farming and academic research. Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones.
Atlantic Cape sees the emerging industry of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, as a career opportunity for the college’s graduates.
“Interest in UAS technology is expanding, and it is expected UAS operations and analytics personnel will be required by law enforcement, homeland security, fire safety, etc., in the future,” Clapp said.
New Jersey and Virginia submitted a joint application that will combine the resources of Virginia Tech and Rutgers University as research centers for drone testing. The William J. Hughes Technical Center, the FAA’s national scientific facility in Egg Harbor Township, also will provide research support for the New Jersey-Virginia partnership.
Atlantic Cape’s new course includes tie-ins with the tech center, including taking students for visits to the FAA facility’s research and development laboratories. The course will be taught by two of the tech center’s experts: Adam Greco, an air traffic domain director in the Technical Strategies and Integration Division, and Michael Konyak, an aeronautical engineer in the Laboratory Services Division.
Dennis Filler, the tech center’s director, predicted that unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, may revolutionize transportation much like trains, automobiles and airplanes did after their invention.
“I can imagine UAV systems being used in agriculture, search and rescue, shore monitoring, lifesaving, firefighting and other constructive uses,” Filler said in a Facebook posting. “America’s willingness to embrace change, seizing the opportunity to improve our quality of life, has what has in the past propelled this nation to its leadership status in the world. We need to continue to manage the risks, explore this technology and continue to adopt new technologies and their peaceful applications.”
Since 2007, the tech center has had a team of aerospace engineers, computer technicians and other researchers working on how to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. Data collected from the national drone-testing sites will be fed to the tech center to support its UAS research, the agency said.
Other states that were selected by the FAA for drone testing include Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas.
As many as 70,000 jobs and $13.6 billion in economic activity nationwide could be created by drone technology between 2015 and 2018, according to a study published in March by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems. The study also predicts 1,353 jobs added in New Jersey by 2017, with $263 million in economic impact.
New Jersey’s selection as a drone-testing site also is expected to provide a local boost for the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park, formerly known as the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park.
The park is designed to capitalize on the FAA’s national NextGen program — which hopes to modernize the air traffic control system by using satellites instead of a radar-based network — by providing locally based research, jobs and consulting contracts.
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey took over the aviation park in September to give it financial stability following a series of management troubles that delayed construction on the proposed seven-building complex.