Edgecombe Community College offers drone operator program

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TARBORO — This fall, Edgecombe Community College will launch a unique certificate program in unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones. ECC will be the only community college in the state to offer the program.

The new drone certificate will be available through the college’s geospatial technology program and will emphasize training in mapping and other geographic data, in addition to preparing students for certification testing.

“Drones are becoming an important tool for many industries as well as for government agencies,” explained Trey Cherry, department chair of information technology studies at ECC. “For example, small drones are used in disaster-related projects. An insurance adjuster can evaluate multiple homes with a drone in the same amount of time it would take to survey a single house on foot.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in drone applications, and with that comes the need for highly skilled drone aviators. That’s where Edgecombe Community College enters the picture.”

The new drone certificate can be completed in two semesters and requires seven courses. Five of the classes are online, and two meet on ECC’s Tarboro campus. Course topics include a survey of GIS/GPS, drone operations, georeferencing and mapping and aerial photo applications.

A key unique element of ECC’s program is a focus on the legal aspects of drone aviation.

“If you’re using a drone for profit, you are required to have a license,” Cherry said. “One of our courses prepares students for small unmanned aircraft systems flight certification through the Federal Aviation Administration and the N.C. Department of Transportation.”

Faculty in ECC’s geospatial technology program will instruct the geospacial classes. Thomas Parrish, information technology studies instructor, will teach the drone courses. An FAA-certified UAV pilot, Parrish heads up the college’s continuing education drone program.

“New applications for drones are emerging constantly,” Cherry added. “Cell tower inspections, construction site mapping, solar farm surveys — the uses are endless. Our goal is to train drone aviators who are skilled at flying drones, understand the legalities and know how to apply the technology.”

To learn more about ECC’s new drone certificate program, email Trey Cherry at cherryt@edgecombe.edu.