Most people first encounter drones as enthusiastic, yet hopelessly uninformed amateurs. They might be presented as the gadgets flown by younger siblings or as ‘stab-in-the-dark’ birthday presents from estranged uncles.
But in January 2018, prospective drone pilots need not enter their new hobby or profession on their own. The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) will be offering a two-week massive open online course (MOOC) on drone operation.
“Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Key Concepts for New Users” will be much like it sounds. It will run between January 22nd and February 4th and go over material such as equipment, airspace, flight planning tools, and the legal end of things. It will also instruct learners on how to move forward and become a bonafide commercial drone operator.
The MOOC was launched in 2015 and has evolved since alongside the increasingly-popular practice of drone operation.
Getting Up to Cruising Altitude
“We have had consistently great feedback about this course,” said Dr. Kristy Kiernan, who has taken the lead in teaching the MOOC, according to an ERAU release. “We are especially excited about the updates and changes we have made to reflect the most up-to-the-minute information ino this rapidly changing part of aviation.”
“One of the strengths of this class, and of Embry-Riddle in general, is the partnership we have with industry,” Kiernan said. “Our students get the best academic experience, plus the benefit of contact with real-world challenges.”
Enrollment is currently open. The course will take up 4 hours per week and progress synchronously. It is open to anyone. Those who successfully complete it will receive a badge recognizing their success. ERAU is offering the MOOC via the Canvas Network.
How to Avoid the Legal Thicket
While it is true that new drone operators can gain important and necessary skills from many YouTube how-to videos on a variety of subjects and using different craft. From the outset, however, the legal situation of drone operation has been in a constant state of flux.
The Federal Aviation Administration, as of the fall of 2017, requires that all drone pilots register their drones, like they would their cars. Drones must be kept lower than 400 feet. They may not be flown near other aircrafts. They cannot be flown over groups of people, or near emergencies such as floods or fires.
This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. States can also impose laws, as can cities and even individual communities.
At the end of the day, every drone pilot wants to have fun. Tedious lawsuits, as a rule, are not fun. This spring, a federal judge dismissed a case filed by a Kentucky drone pilot against a man who refers to himself as “The Drone Slayer.” Recognized as William Merideth by the state of Kentucky, he moonlights as an anti-drone, pro-privacy vigilante and shoots drones out of the sky.
“Even if Boggs [the plaintiff] is correct that his unmanned aircraft is subject to federal regulation, as the Court noted above, the fact remains that the FAA has not sought to enforce any such regulations in this case,” the judge concluded, according to Ars Technica. “Moreover, FAA regulations, at most would constitute ancillary issues in this case, in which the heart of Boggs’ claim is one for damage to his unmanned aircraft under Kentucky state law.”
While the legal side of drone operation remains opaque, the MOOC offered by ERAU might just clear a few things up.