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Engaging with Academia

How the FAA is Helping Prepare Tomorrow's UAS Workforce

Source: FAA Safety Briefing, May/June 2021
By: Diana Robinson

students with drones

Are you a college student interested in pursuing a career in the drone industry? Thanks to the FAA’s new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI), students participating in this initiative through their institution will have FAA expertise and backing for a career in unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones. Launched on April 30, 2020, the UAS-CTI initiative is one of three FAA Collegiate Training Initiatives — a network of FAA-recognized relationships with educational institutions that prepare students to pursue an aviation career with the FAA. The goal of the UAS-CTI program is to ensure that UAS-CTI graduates have the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a successful career in a UAS-related field. The UAS-CTI program aims to address workforce development and build a pipeline of UAS qualified professionals to meet the increasing demand in this growing industry. In addition to providing experienced remote pilots, the UAS-CTI supports the FAA’s goal of safely integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System.

drones in field

As of the time of this writing, 71 schools participate in the UAS-CTI and over 135 have requested to join. Public two-year colleges that become a UAS-CTI school will be designated as members of the Consortium for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology Training. A kick-off meeting occurred in September 2020, and a meeting of the Consortium, which is made up of the two-year and technical colleges, took place in November. To bolster diversity in the program, UAS-CTI co-administrators Alina George and I, from the FAA’s Office of UAS Integration, reached out to Minority Serving Institutions such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). Several of these institutions are now a part of the UAS-CTI program.

“It is truly remarkable to watch this program grow and to see action items that were generated from initial UAS-CTI meetings being completed,” said Nicole Hartman, Management and Program Analyst in the FAA’s Unmanned Integration Office. Recent engagement activities include two February webinars. The first webinar explained how to start, develop, and maintain a UAS program for colleges and universities. During this webinar, attendees brought up a concern about the lack of UAS job data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Without this data, establishing and continuing school UAS programs could be in jeopardy. This information propelled creation of a partnership involving the U.S. Departments of Labor, Transportation, and Education. Additionally, a BLS Specialty Job Classification work group was created to work with partnering federal agencies to modify current job codes and create new ones. The second webinar included an FAA-led discussion of new UAS rules, and addressed their effect on educational institutions.

New UAS-CTI schools will support the FAA's efforts to expand the aviation workforce of the future while providing additional opportunities for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) students. The relationships between the UAS-CTI schools, local governments, industry, associations, organizations, and the FAA are an important engagement milestone for this program, and one that will help sustain future success.

Drone with professor

To learn more about the UAS-CTI program, visit https://www.faa.gov/uas/educational_users/collegiate_training_initiative.

Diana Robinson is a project specialist in the Operational Programs Branch of the FAA’s Office of UAS Integration.

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