FSC: How to (safely) earn a commercial drone license

Pre-flight check: A new Farmingdale State College course will help students earn commercial licenses for drone operations.

As the nation’s skies clog with Unmanned Aerial Systems, the Federal Aviation Administration is ratcheting up its licensing protocols – and Farmingdale State College is ready for takeoff.

The college has announced a new, six-week Remote Pilot Certification Program, starting April 15 at the Farmingdale State College Aviation Center. Meeting weekly for intensive three-hour sessions, the program prepares students for the FAA’s Part 107 licensing examination, which authorizes UAS operations for commercial purposes.

Instructor Hal Staniloff, owner of Setauket-based aerial videographer Estate Aerial Inc., referred to the six-week program as a “Part 107 preparation course” – but safety is the top priority, according to Aviation Center Director Michael Canders, who noted private and commercial drone use on a steady climb.

Michael Canders: Safety first.

“FAA forecasts indicate that sales of these devices in the United States will probably climb to seven million by 2020,” Canders told Innovate LI. “That’s a lot of these machines in the national airspace.

“We, the flying public, are going to be accepting more risk, whether we know it or not,” the aviation professor added. “The potential for a collision between a major airliner and a drone exists.”

Canders, a veteran of both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, knows a thing or two about flight safety. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and earning commendations over seven-plus years as a rescue-helicopter pilot, Canders – who also earned an MBA in finance from Hofstra University and a PhD in applied management from Walden University – rose to become president of the Communications and Electronic Services division of Farmingdale-based communications ace Telephonics Corp.

He then left the private sector after the 9/11 attacks to return to active duty – this time with the Air Force, eventually taking command of a U.S. air base in Iraq.

Back in civilian life, the retired colonel has taken to teaching. In addition to his roles as FSC associate aviation professor and Aviation Center director, Canders – an FAA-licensed commercial pilot – serves on the Military Advisory Council of the Atlanta-based First Data Corp. and the board of directors at School Business Partnerships of Long Island Inc.

His myriad aviation-related experiences give Canders a unique perspective on flight safety, which he planned to share Friday during a Ronkonkoma lecture to the Long Island Metro Business Action Group, titled “The Hazards of Drones.”

“I’m going to talk about the promise and pitfalls of these machines,” Canders said Thursday. “And I’ll mention that we at the college, which has a long history of aviation safety and training, are beginning our next phase, regarding unmanned-vehicle safety and training.”

While safety will be a big part of the Remote Pilot Certification Program, the main focus will be on helping students get through that Part 107 licensing process, according to instructor Staniloff, who was asked by Canders to teach the course after the two buddied up through the Long Island chapter of the FAA Safety Team – a group of pilots, UAS enthusiasts and other aviation-industry volunteers who meet regularly at Republic Airport to promote safer skies through education and outreach.

Hal Staniloff: By the book.

The FSC program is “not a hands-on-I-will-teach-you-how-to-fly course,” Staniloff noted, but is “designed for professionals or individuals looking to pass the small-UAS licensing.”

In fact, through a quirk of the FAA licensing system, “you don’t have to know how to fly a drone” to earn a Part 107 commercial license, according to the instructor.

“Basically, with a Part 107 license, you assume responsibility,” Staniloff said. “You are bound by the regulations to assume remote-pilot-in-command status, but that does not mean you have to be the one actually manipulating the controls.

“It’s how the FAA works,” he added. “If you want to be a remote pilot, you don’t have to know how to fly a drone.”

But you better know the rules, whether you or your nephew Billy will be at the controls of your commercial drone. Enter the FSC remote-pilot course, which will be limited to 25 students – at least for its first class – and runs $595 per seat.

Staniloff promised a regulations-heavy exploration of nine different topics over the six-week course, including several looks at operational safety.

“These things are not toys anymore,” the instructor noted. “If the propellers come into contact with a human neck, I can assure you, it will be a ‘Game of Thrones’ scene.”

Canders is not quite as graphic, but no less serious, about the safety implications of UAS operations, especially with a rapidly increasing number of private and commercial drones zipping around up there – and particularly regarding the safety of olden-days manned flights.

“You can literally buy one of these machines, take it out of the box and starting flying it, right next to [Long Island MacArthur] Airport without realizing how dangerous that is.” the veteran pilot said. “And the more drones are flying, the more the probability of a collision goes up.”

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