North Central Texas – Leading the Way in Developing a Diverse Drone Workforce!
By: Dawn M.K. Zoldi
The autonomous flight ecosystem of tomorrow requires a concerted effort to create a diverse workforce today. Last year, a indicated that military and civilian commercial electric VTOL aircraft sectors will require 10,000 additional vertical flight-related engineers over the next decade. Only five years from now, the agricultural drone market should be worth more than $8,000M, with drone deliveries a close second at about $7,000M. Besides engineers, pilots, attorneys, maintainers will be needed to support these industries, as will career fields we have not even yet begun to fathom. One group leads the pack on developing the diverse team we need: The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and the North Texas UAS Safety and Integration Initiative.
Maggie Schuster, CEO of UAS Plus Services LLC / Your Aerial View and current contractor for the NCTCOG’s Know Before You Fly Your Drone Workshops, has made it her mission to increase drone public awareness, by sharing information on safe operational practices and all the possible careers in the unmanned aircraft community. “To truly make this a new thriving ecosystem, we need to encourage diversity in all aspects of the UAS workforce,” she opines.
Maggie began her drone career during her stint as a catastrophic insurance claims adjuster. She explains, “A coworker showed me the amazing advancement of vertical inspections and how they could save lives and money. After that, I flew my first drone, and I was hooked.” Schuster obtained her Part 107 shortly thereafter, started her company in the Spring of 2018, and obtained Level One with TOP-AUVSI Trusted Operator Professional certification.
Three years ago, she linked up with the NCTCOG, a voluntary association of, by and for local governments, to assist in regional planning. Established in 1966, the NCTCOG serves a 16-county region of North Central Texas. According to Schuster, as a part of the Initiative the UAS Safety and Integration Task Force (industry stakeholder group) started out in 2018 as twenty-five people in a meeting room. Under the leadership of Ernest Huffman, the Transportation Department’s Aviation Planning and Education Program Manager, with his laser-focus on promoting the safe integration of UAS technology into the Dallas Fort Worth regional airspace, the group has now grown to over 300 members.
This public-private consortium, with representatives from federal, state, and local governments, the military, as well as from industry, aerospace, academia, meets monthly in a virtual format. NCTCOG UAS Safety and Integration Task Force’s meetings feature three to four guest speakers per session, who cross-level industry information and bolster professional development. On average, more than 100 people dial into the sessions. Additionally, the initiative has four working groups that are focused on laws and policy, training and workforce, integration, public awareness and education within the region.
Schuster chairs the Public Awareness and Education Outreach group. As part of that effort, she and a small team, including Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones, and Evan Merelli, Elm Aerial Services, competed for, and successfully obtained NCTCOG regional funding to create the Know Before You Fly Your Drone Workshops. The workshops focus on how drone pilots can prepare for the Part 107 test, recreational TRUST test, obtain waivers, use LAANC, and where to fly drones, among other practical tips. The Workshops also provide insights on how to start a drone-related business, provide rules and regulations updates, and best practices. The team’s contains recorded programs with their professional guest speakers.
Originally, twelve workshops were to be held at locations across North Texas over a two-year period. Efforts changed due to COVID-19. Now held in virtual format, “These workshops create an important community resource. They are designed to educate and inform all UAS pilots including first time recreational, as well as, commercial and professional pilots,” informs Schuster. “We want to provide the information that every drone pilot can use to succeed.” (See for more information about the Know Before You Fly Your Drone Workshops).
Diversity in the workforce is something Schuster takes seriously. She recalls that in her first drone training class of 300, she was the only woman. She’s made it her mission to inspire other women and girls to enter the drone industry, from hosting Clubhouse drop-in audio chat rooms on “Girls in STEAM,” to writing a book, “Girls Can Fly Drones Too.” The planned book will be an anthology of female leaders in the drone industry. She explains, “My goal is to intentionally create Workshops, chat rooms, and other content, like my book, that will serve as an example to others. Together, we are better.”
Statistics bear this out. A ,” indicates that companies with at least 30% women in top leadership roles financially outperform male-dominated competition by 48%.
Both Schuster and the Texas team merits watching. They make things happen. Just this May, the , “to study the potential of drone technology and integrate it into future transportation plans. The NCTCOG was only one of five groups selected to work with NASA to plan the integration of cargo-carrying drones, automated air taxis and other Advanced Air Mobility technologies during a series of at least four future workshops.
For more information about the North Central Texas Council of Governments visit
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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