There will be 10,000 commercial drones operating in the U.S. within five years, the Federal Aviation Administration predicts. The industry will produce 100,000 jobs by 2025. Camera drones alone are expected to be a $5 billion industry.
All these remotely piloted systems will need feet-on-the-ground fliers, and colleges are revving up their piloting programs.
Only three schools offer bachelor’s degrees for piloting unmanned aircraft: Kansas State University, University of North Dakota, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach (where you can study homeland security).
There’s a shortage of pilots right now, according to Embry-Riddle’s Dan Macchiarella. The shortage should continue to grow even as some current conflicts draw down.
The government has issued permits for research and border security to 358 public institutions, including community colleges, NBC News explains. But police departments requesting them for high crime areas have been rejected over concerns about airspace safety.
However, when the FAA releases regulations for unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace in 2015, drones will start doing things they haven’t done previously.
So, how is training for a drone different from regular pilot training? Macchiarella tells IEEE Spectrum:
Presence is the key... If a pilot is on the other side of the world flying a vehicle, they have to mentally put themselves in that aircraft and fly it.
Simulators… it’s there to induce the pilot to making the right decisions, taking the right actions, but it’s not really flight... With UA, unmanned aerial systems, however, the simulator and the actual system are identical. There’s no difference.
The Department of Defense plans to spend $4.2 billion on drones this year.
Engineering and computer science students are also in demand. At least 50 American universities have programs where students are making drones smarter with sensors and studying robot-human interacts.