By: Dawn Zoldi
Josh Olds had a dream to fly high in traditional aviation. He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with a B.S. in Aeronautical Science (professional piloting with a multi-commercial and instrument rating) and an A.S. in Aviation Maintenance Science with airframe and power plant certification. His goal to make a difference in the airline industry ended before it even began due to widespread layoffs and hiring freezes. Instead, he found himself flying and instructing on Group 3 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for Textron Unmanned and then anti-piracy intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the Indian Ocean for oil and gas. In 2015, after a quick stint back at ERAU, where he simultaneously earned a M.S. in Aeronautics with a specialization in educational technology, he co-founded the Unmanned Safety Institute (USI). Ever since, as the company’s VP of Operations and now President, he’s been schooling others globally about professionalism in the drone industry.
The USI provides drone-specific curriculum and content to over 24 colleges and universities and nearly 200 schools in 35 states, through more than 200 affiliated instructors across the country. It also provides training directly to the individual remote pilot. Its corporate division also provides organizational guidance, initial training and continuing workforce development to businesses across the globe, including several Fortune 500 companies.
To Olds, who has extensive experience managing operational teams, it’s all about building a safety culture, which starts with standardized approaches, including for crew resource management. “Crews must speak the same language and have shared mental models relating to safety, whether conducting a site survey, communicating traffic in the area, or completing a crew briefing,” he explained. “Without this, breakdowns occur which result in expensive accidents and mishaps. I’ve seen this firsthand.”
Olds and his colleagues created USI to provide certification-based equivalencies to manned aviation, backed by best practices in manned and unmanned aviation, the risk management community, and the insurance industry. Specifically, the USI developed an aviation risk-based approach to organizational drone operations which focuses on the size of the aircraft and complexity of the operation. Operating an aircraft 20 lbs or under, within visual line of sight presents a fairly low amount of risk when compared to an operation with an aircraft 55 lbs beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The USI safety-based certification structure uses the same educational, training, and certification standards employed by OEMs for their equipment training sign-offs as well as those used to build BVLOS waiver safety cases.
The on-line content is self-paced, with third party-proctored assessments and final evaluations. According to Olds, the USI model has been so successful, especially for students, because it bridges the divide between academia and industry. It provides both workforce development and a pathway for both advanced education and career placement. Students who obtain safety-based certifications or training within the USI framework earn the equivalent credentials that organizations require of internal employees to operate inside of a particular “stage” of operation. So, when a high school student graduates, they will have earned a remote pilot certificate and USI’s safety certification: Level 1. This provides the opportunity for advanced standing (articulated credit) in collegiate STAGE 1 and STAGE 2 programs. Olds elaborated, “We also created a natural progression to job placement. We help match organizations looking for specific safety-based certifications or aircraft training levels with students who have earned them, through our Unmanned Connect™ program.” These opportunities for students could include internships, apprenticeships, or full time employment with industry.
States have been able to create entire workforce development models with the USI, merging activities at the Department of Education with that of industry and/or economic development offices, ranging from remotely piloted operations under Part 107 to Advanced Air Mobility. USI works directly with many of the programs on the FAA’s UAS Collegiate Training Initiative to help provide feeder programs and opportunities for students matriculating from secondary schools. Finally, USI also started a program during COVID to provide schools demonstrating a need with access to coursework to prepare students for their Part 107 exam for free.This enabled many schools across the country to start a drone program, while searching for funds for drone equipment and program expansion.
A Curriculum in Drone Professionalism for Individual Remote Pilots
For the individual remote pilot, the company also offers access to preparatory coursework for safety-based certifications and Part 107 exams through its Learning Management System. These folks can also opt into Unmanned Connect™ upon completion of their certification.
Finally, USI provides ongoing professional development for employees of companies with drone programs. It’s three most common business models include:
- Education, Training, and Certification – Hybrid. This model allows for online, self-paced completion of the knowledge components of the curriculum, in preparation for onsite flight training.
- Certification Plus College Credit – USI has partnered with colleges and universities across the country to provide these options. This option usually requires a longer time commitment.
- OEM-Specific Training – this usually includes safety certification inclusion for waiver support.
Two months ago, USI celebrated the delivery of its 10,000th safety certification. The company plans to beta test a new textbook and coursework focused on business considerations in drone technology and related legal aspects of the industry, authored by Dawn Zoldi, P3 Tech Consulting, this Fall. Its ultimate goal is to host academic programs in all 50 of the United States to support workforce development for all classifications of drone technology. “It is a great industry and we truly believe in collaboration. Rising tides lift all boats,” muses Olds. For those interested in USI education, training, certifications, full program standup, or industry partnerships, email [email protected] or visit the company’s website at https://www.unmannedsafetyinstitute.org/.
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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