By Melanie DeStefano
When a new technology emerges, especially one that could potentially cause property
damage or bodily harm, where does the responsibility of building a culture of safety fall? That has been the question for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology
“TOP of the Class: AUVSI & Educators Training for Safety,” a recent virtual seminar hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems
International (AUVSI), brought together educators to discuss the importance of
standardization in this emerging field.
TOP refers to the Trusted Operator Program, created by AUVSI to recognize and certify training programs that promote safety, responsibility, professionalism, and trust in the UAS industry.
While there are Federal Aviation Administration regulations on where and when unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV) can be flown, said Joseph Cerreta, assistant
professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, there is currently a “very low” standard for commercial and civil remote pilot certification—a single written exam is
needed to be certified.
“Organizations like survey companies or inspection companies or utility companies are looking to hire or have services provided by UAS service providers and they really, truly don’t know the level of a competency [of those] providing these services to them,” said Cerreta.
Dr. William Austin, the president of TOP-certified Warren Community College in New Jersey, compared learning to fly UAVs to learning to drive. Just because someone has passed the written driver’s test doesn’t mean they’re able to drive competently in snow and ice. Training providers need agreed-upon standards,
according to Austin, or the business community and industry cannot differentiate
competency, currency, and pilot proficiency.
When a board member at Warren Community College suggested they start their
own UAS program, Dr. Austin knew they had to go about it the right way, turn to those with significant experience, and adopt practices from manned aviation that ensure Warren is producing the best pilots. As an accredited public college, Warren’s entire history is tied to accepted standards, as well as to regulations that protect the consumer and the public good, so he looked to similar organizations for guidance. That’s why he turned to Embry-Riddle for training and guidance, he said.
Embry-Riddle has been preparing students for careers in flight for nearly 100 years, and the university recognized that their unique history prepared them to train others in the emerging field, said David Thirtyacre, a retired military pilot who now chairs Embry-Riddle’s Department of Flight.
In addition to running their own degree and certificate programs, the university now
offers guidance for colleges and universities wishing to start their own UAS programs.
They also offer three tiers of training for educators to ensure competency and
consistency between remote pilot instructors. Dr. Austin, for example, just achieved the highest level of TOP training with Embry-Riddle as a student, so he had a better
understanding of the needs of Warren’s own students.
Dr. Austin pointed out that organizations planning their own UAS training programs
should not run out to buy a fleet of new drones right away. To become a reputable
instruction provider, a lot of preparation and training must come first, from instructor
training and curriculum development to acquiring the right insurance, to measuring the effectiveness of one’s curriculum against standards and external audits. Currently,
Warren is an AUVSI Training & Service Provider, an ASTM UAS Approved Training
Provider Program, and an FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI) school.
Dr. William Austin, and Peter Miller were recent guests on the sUAS News podcast
series with Gene Robinson and Patrick Egan. Listen here –