Drone certification course at BU one of the first in Canada

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BRANDON – Drones are taking off at Brandon University (BU) this fall. Students and members of the public who are fascinated by the unmanned aerial vehicles can register for a university-credit course that will teach them everything they need to know to safely and legally fly the popular and useful airborne vehicles.

“Drones are really fun to fly, and a lot of hobbyists fly them for pure enjoyment,” said BU Geography professor Dr. Dion Wiseman. “For geographers and for many others, they are also important tools that can capture photos and other data to provide incredibly detailed information that’s difficult or impossible to gather in any other way.”

The new course, Applied Topics in Geography: UAV Ground School, offers students a novel opportunity to learn about drones, their applications, safety considerations, how they work, and the regulations and procedures to operate them. Students will have the chance to become certified drone pilots, able to fly drones commercially or for research at the university.

“Drones have become a vital tool for collecting aerial photography used to generate land cover maps and create 3D models of the natural terrain and built landscape. They are used extensively across a variety of traditional academic disciplines including archaeology, environmental science, biology, geography, and geology; as well as in numerous applied fields such as architecture, civil engineering, surveying, and many more,” Wiseman said. “This course, and resulting Transport Canada certification, will provide students in a variety of college and university programs with a competitive edge is today’s job market by providing them with highly marketable skills and training.”

The course will also prepare drone pilots for stiff new Transport Canada regulations. Existing rules exempt people who fly drones recreationally, while the proposed new rules will require everyone at the controls of a drone to have completed a ground school course like the one being offered at BU.

“This is an industry that is getting huge. Real estate, photography and videography are some of the more obvious applications, but all of the major industries including mining, construction and agriculture are turning to drones, and they’re all around us here on the Prairies,” said Matthew Johnson, president of M3 Aerial Productions and the instructor of the course. He said he expects every farmer will soon own a drone. “Agriculture is huge. Within three to five years, drones will be a tool that everyone uses. The trend is growing right now, and the ability to get an aerial photo of their field is so important.”

To help meet expected wide demand for the training, the course will be fully available online. The first portion of the course is self-directed online study that must be completed by Nov. 17. The second portion includes three Saturday sessions (Nov. 18, 25, and Dec. 2) that are offered either in-class or through online videoconferencing.

The course cost is $600, and includes BU tuition, the university admissions fee, and a course fee of $60 for the manual and textbook. There is no prerequisite, and no need to already own a drone, as the course is completely ground-based with no actual flying.

“Brandon University is one of the first in Canada to offer a UAV pilot ground school,” Wiseman said. “Pilot training schools have begun to offer programs that result in similar certification meeting Transport Canada regulations, but they are not for university course credit.”

Johnson says people are realizing that drone education is necessary. With the ever-increasing popularity of drones, people need to be aware of the hazards before they start flying around overhead.

“It’s like driving a car. Driver’s Ed is extremely valuable to public safety as a whole in the same way as UAV Ground School,” he said. But just as a driver’s license can open up new destinations, he says that flying a drone can help launch a career. “For students, it’s a huge opportunity to get in in the early stages. There’s already a shortage of qualified drone pilots, and now with just one course you can tap into a whole new industry.”

Brandon University, founded in 1899, promotes excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship, and educates students so that they can make a meaningful difference as engaged citizens and leaders.