With the implementation this week of the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 rules governing drone usage in the country, many commercial operators now have a clear path forward in the use of unmanned aerial systems.
"These vehicles are in use everywhere," said Troy University adjunct professor Al Allenback, a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot. "Entertainment, business, forestry, engineering, surveying - the applications are endless."
Allenback is the mastermind behind TROY's new UAS courses, and is excited about bringing the study of the management and applications of drones to students at the University.
The UAS courses are an emphasis area within the academic minor in Aviation Operations, which this fall has been opened up to any major - mirroring the small UAS's ascent into a "river" of commercial applications.
Generally limited to altitudes of no more than 400 feet above ground level, small UAS operators can tap an endless number of possibilities, Allenback said.
"Four hundred feet altitude is a river, and the (FAA) rules will fall into place and we'll be living with drones every day," he said.
Already, the UAS sector is estimated at $3.3 billion, and it's expected to climb to $90 billion by 2025. Allenback said this translates into a large number of jobs that have never before existed.
"Industry and business is going to need people in all areas that can deal with drones and I see 'CDOs' - chief drone officers - who need to be prepared to step into those roles," he said.
Preparing students to assume command of drone operations for companies is exactly what Allenback said the University's minor emphasis was engineered to accomplish, from policy making, fleet management, decision making to designing UAS operations and missions.
"We not so much about teaching people to fly a drone as we are about teaching the mechanics of their usage," he said. "Understanding usage is policy making. This program makes TROY very unique in UAS - there are very few universities nationwide teaching some form of UAS programming, and TROY ranks seventh in the nation."
The UAS emphasis is offered in an online format, and while a course exists that allows students to pilot computer simulated drones, it's not intended to prepare students to earn a remote pilot in command license. Rather, the courses are designed to teach the student about policy and practical management of drones in business, research and public safety arenas.
"With Part 107, we will see the UAS/UAV community proliferate. It's the convergence of technology, commercial desire and the need for regulation - we'll see one-day delivery of products, for example. We'll be able to place an order and have it delivered within a few hours," he said.
"With our minor, Troy University is positioned to help students succeed in this new environment," Allenback said.
Dr. Govind Menon, director of TROY's School of Science and Technology and head of the Chemistry and Physics Department in which the aviation operations minor exists, echoed Allenback's vision.
"The minor is policy-based, but it could be housed in social sciences, business, or other disciplines. As time goes by, more of us are going to be surrounded by drones, and we need students to know the rules of engagement, designers need to know the safety features built into drones, they need to understand the limitations of applications," he said. "In that sense, the minor is very important."
Menon's focus: to let people know the minor exists.
"The minor is here and a wide group of people know we have it at TROY. There is such a large number of applications connected to UAS operations and we have the program at TROY that can be applicable to any number of areas from highly commercial to the hobbyist," Menon said.
For more information about TROY's minor in Aviation Operations, which includes UAS, fixed- and rotary wing operations, as well as its use within the Bachelor of Applied Science, contact the Chemistry and Physics Department at 334-670-3408 or visit them on the web at http://trojan.troy.edu/artsandsciences/chemistryandphysics/.