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UNLV launching new drone certification program

Updated December 26, 2018 - 9:07 pm

UNLV will offera new unmanned aerial systems certification program in the upcoming spring semester, broadening the local workforce’s skillset as the demand for drone pilots increases across industries.

The 40-hour course is open to all who apply and will take place over two weekends. Heidi Erpelding-Welch, senior developer for UNLV’s continuing education program, said she hopes to see 10 to 15 students sign up for the course’s inaugural class.

“It’s really helping people continue their education and learn the best practices in the workforce,” she said.


Erpelding-Welch said the class will mainly focus on nontraditional students, many of whom are looking for a career change.

“We’re working with people to develop new skills,” she said.

The class will help prepare students who want to become a commercial drone pilot through hands-on instruction, as well as a classroom and online setting. The class will help prepare students for the Part 107 assessment— a Federal Aviation Administration exam that grants drone pilots permission to operate small drones commercially — but Erpelding-Welch said the class goes beyond the basic FAA requirements.

Instructors will also focus on topics like safe drone operations, policies and best practices. These skills can be applied to jobs in a variety of industries, from photography and construction to search and rescue and security.

“We’ll be talking about regulations … talking about some of the export issues, policy and public perception and regulations,” said Jonathan Daniels, CEO of Praxis Aerospace Concepts Inc., which developed the course’s curriculum. “People are saying we need more than just Part 107 (knowledge), and this program fits.”

The FAA expects “phenomenal growth” in the UAS industry over the next 20 years, according to a March report from the administration. It expects the commercial drone fleet to reach more than 451,000 by 2022 — up from about 111,000 in 2017 — and the number of drone pilots to hit 301,000 by 2022, more than four times the amount in 2017.

The skills taught in this course will “fit employer needs,” Daniels said.

Local industry

Nevada is the first state with such a drone certification program, according to Daniels. He said more drone-related programs like this could combat misinformation in the drone industry and propel the state as an industry leader.

Nevada’s drone industry is “not at the front of the bell curve. We’re not last in the nation,” he said. “We’re not as far forward as we could be. With programs like this, we could get ahead of that curve.”

Erpelding-Welch said Nevada is setting standards for the rest of the country’s drone industries.

“It’s a growing industry here,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to build up the workforce … and ensure they do in the safest and most ethical manner.”

Chris Walach, executive director of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, said UNLV’s certification exemplifies the importance of education in developing the states’ drone industry.

“It goes to show that everything that we do in one sense or another is grounded in research and development and education,” he said.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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