Oregon College’s New Drone Pilot Program Takes Flight This Fall

The FAA estimates demand for remote pilot certifications will exceed 300,000 in the next five years.

by Dylan Darling, The Register-Guard / August 9, 2018
Drone (Dreamstime/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — Lane Community College officials have high hopes for their new drone pilot program, one of the few taking off in the state.

LCC will offer a two-year associate's degree for commercial unmanned aerial systems — popularly known as drones — starting this fall, said Sean Parrish, a flight instructor with the Eugene-based college. The state approved the program earlier this month and students may start signing up Monday. Classes start at the end of September.

"There's just so many different ways that this technology is being used that we saw that there's going to be a need here in the near future for this, and so developing this program is part of meeting that need," said Parrish, who will lead the program. He expects to start with about 15 students.

Tuition and fees for the drone degree will be $18,937, said Pat O'Connor, LCC advanced technology division dean.

Central Oregon Community College in Bend also offers an unmanned aerial systems degree. Both LCC and COCC already have established aviation programs.

As of December 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration had issued more than 73,000 remote pilot certifications around the country. The agency estimates that increases in commercial activity might push that to more than 300,000 in the next five years.

Drones have become handy tools for a variety of industries and agencies, Parrish said. Farmers check on crops with drones. Railroad companies inspect their tracks with drones. And, more and more, police, fire and rescue teams fly drones.

"It's a safer way of pinpointing things without putting people up in airplanes," O'Connor said.

LCC also plans to offer certificates for drone photography and mapping, he said, but it awaits approval from the state. The certificates will require a year of study.

Students will pursue the LCC drone degree through the college's Lane Aviation Academy, Parrish said. They'll earn an FAA remote pilot certificate and a private airplane pilot's license from the agency along the way.

"It's to help students looking at bigger applications of flying larger (unmanned) aircraft in the near future," he said.

Classes for LCC's drone degree will take place at the Lane Aviation Academy at the Eugene Airport and at LCC's main campus on East 30th Avenue. The coursework will include students flying drones at the LCC campus, O'Connor said, with the school providing the drones.

"We already have one or two drones right now. ..." he said. "We're hoping to get a few more of those as interest in the program grows."

©2018 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.