We live in a world where technology is changing so quickly that career counseling, planning and educational choices must be based on forecasts of job availability. Technology is progressing in every industry, including aviation and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), making it essential that we prepare our young people for future careers in this arena.

STEM is the concept of educating students in four disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The term is used to address educational policy and curriculum choices that improve competitiveness in science and technology development areas. Ideally, STEM curriculums expose students to topics that assist them in career decisions.

High school administrators, teachers and STEM curriculum developers should introduce STEM into schools when there is a win-win-win relationship for the student, the academic staff and the school district. This win-win-win scenario is based on the high probability that exposure to STEM curriculums leads to successful career decisions; however, the success of a STEM curriculum is never 100% guaranteed. Thorough curriculum vetting improves the probability that a selected curriculum will result in productive career paths for students.

A STEM curriculum should do as follows:

  • Provide affordable classes that interest students;
  • Add value to the student, school and school district;
  • Be relevant and flexible to current industry and business trends; and
  • Have large-scale forecasted value to future industry and business operations.

Keys in introducing STEM curriculum are timing, the maturity of the technology, and the future impact the technology will have on business and industry. In an ideal situation, an academic system introduces technology to students at the same time business and industry are road-mapping technology that will make significant changes in the one H and four W’s of business operations:

  • How are business operations conducted?
  • Who is managing business operations?
  • What business operations are performed?
  • Where are business operations accomplished?
  • Why are these business operations important?

Currently, STEM programs have an unprecedented opportunity to present drone technology in the classroom. STEM curriculums that parallel technology growth in business and industry are optimal, and academic institutions must properly gauge the appropriate STEM curriculum at the right time.

An off-the-shelf STEM UAS technology curriculum is available at K-12 schools, technical and vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. This curriculum prepares students for challenging, high-paying and in-demand careers.

One of the most attractive reasons educational institutions should adopt a UAS drone curriculum is the diversity of industry space in which UAS will play.

UAS have existed since about 1918, but the past decade has brought us to an unprecedented precipice of a UAS commercial application boom within aviation. For example, in the gas pipeline monitoring market, the cost-savings while using an unmanned aircraft with sensors rather than a manned helicopter are monumental. To monitor pipelines in a helicopter, the hourly cost is roughly $850/hour to $2,500/hour, depending on the type, make, model and crew requirements. Using a UAS, the hourly cost ranges from $35/hour to $80/hour.

However, the single greatest challenge and barrier to commercial industry development is the safe integration of drones into the existing National Airspace System (NAS).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines the NAS as the airspace, navigation facilities and airports of the U.S., along with their associated information, services, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, personnel and equipment. In a significant development, the Trump administration recently signed a presidential directive requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA to accelerate the integration of advanced UAS operations within the NAS. Consequently, the FAA initiated the UAS Integration Pilot Program, and memoranda of agreements will be in place with selected state and local agencies by May.

The commercial industry is trying to quantify the economic impact UAS technology can have, but it is difficult without unlimited access to the NAS; many commercial applications for unmanned aircraft remain on the drawing board.

But as technology improves, it is difficult to imagine an industry where the use of unmanned aircraft will not be initiated, considering a task can often be performed more efficiently and effectively than with a manned aircraft.

In turn, industries will need a talented workforce of trained and qualified technicians and operators. This includes public safety, infrastructure inspection, crime scenes and forensics, search and rescue, emergency management and disaster relief, wildfire mapping, agricultural monitoring, telecommunications, entertainment, environmental monitoring, oil and gas, freight transport, construction, and real estate.

However, this list is by no means all-inclusive. The more industries UAS technology touches, the more potential job opportunities exist.

In closing, a UAS academic curriculum designed to align with STEM funding can place your academic institution and students in a position to take advantage of this next generation of flight within the aviation industry of tomorrow. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Michael M. Wilson is director of operations at Orlando, Fla.-based Unmanned Safety Institute, which offers UAS safety training and certification programs. Wilson, who has extensive experience in both military and commercial aviation, graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a BS in Economics, the Naval War College with a MA in National Security & Strategic Studies, and the Naval Safety Center. He can be reached at mike.wilson@unmannedsafetyinstitute.org

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