Saturday, December 26, 2015

Got a new drone? Embry-Riddle has a class for that

With all the attention over an expected increase in flying drones this Christmas, the worldwide campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has found a niche for itself in — Where else? — education.

The school’s worldwide campus is offering a free online course for drone users and enthusiasts who want to learn more about operating unmanned aerial technology in the National Airspace System.

The class will last two weeks, from Jan. 11-24, and will cover the basic issues first-time drone users may encounter, such as registering the device with the Federal Aviation Administration and height limitations.

Ken Witcher, the dean for the worldwide campus’ College of Aviation, said the course was developed as an “outreach effort” for those unfamiliar with federal guidelines.

“And what we want to focus on by gauging those first-time operators is that these are vehicles that fly in a shared community and that shared community is called the National Airspace (System),” Witcher said.

The FAA this week announced that it will offer a rebate for the $5 registration fee for the first 30 days. But the federal agency's announcement requiring all flying aircraft to join the registry has rankled hobbyists and other flying enthusiasts.

“We haven't seen a huge influx of people asking about the regulations,” said Mike Roy, manager of High Fly Hobbies on Orange Avenue in Daytona Beach. “It’s in such an infancy right now, there’s not a lot going on with it.”

Roy, for one, is not convinced by the safety hype around drones. “As far as education goes, there’s never been an issue with any of this stuff in the past,” he said.

Many of them are no different than model remote-controlled airplanes, he said, in terms of performance. Roy wondered: Why the rush to regulate now?

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a representative of the model airplane industry and hobbyists, recently told its members to hold off from registering model airplanes as it seeks to challenge the regulation.

“To put it in perspective, even certain paper airplanes could even fall into this regulation,” Roy said. “So if you took a paper airplane and threw it out of a window and it weighed more than 9 ounces you would have to register it.”

The implications for drones are much more serious, according to Embry-Riddle's Witcher. He hopes the course, which had about 3,000 people enrolled as of Tuesday, will help people understand.

“They’re not toys that you’re playing with in the backyard on your property, you’re actually operating these things in the National Airspace System,” Witcher said.

He added, “Now we have millions of new users entering into this environment and we’re doing our best to get the word out that this is a shared community.”


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