Education / Technology

Meet Delaware’s drone pilot trainers

Think drones are a passing fad? This father-and-son duo says it’s an industry about to boom.

The drones students train with at Drone Workforce Solutions, including a $1,500 model (top) they can take home and use for jobs in the future. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Within a few years, according to Theo Nix II, drone pilots will be a significant part of the workforce in most industries — and he, along with his business partner and son, Theo Nix III, is getting in on the ground floor. Their company, Drone Workforce Solutions, is a comprehensive drone pilot training and employment program, the likes of which are still few and far between.
“Most programs to pass the FAA test are two days, even one day,” says Nix II. “That’s not going to teach someone to be a good operator. We do it the old-fashioned way, in a classroom and on-site — actual training with the drone they’re going to use.” (The FAA being the Federal Aviation Administration.)
Some aspiring drone pilots with no access to training turn to the internet, where they learn via Youtube videos and practice with inexpensive drones meant for recreation. “There are people doing it online, making quick money,” he says. “We believe that this is the way to do it for staying power … What we’re doing is looking at this for the long-term, to employ young people in an industry that’s not dying.”
Drone piloting can pay up to $100 an hour, and more and more companies are starting to add drone pilots to their workforce.
Most people think of the military when they think of drones, or maybe Amazon’s futuristic plans to fly packages to your door. The latter may still be hard to imagine but it’s coming. And as soon as drones become a normal part of our everyday lives, the opportunities for pilots are almost endless. That’s what the Nix family hopes, at least.

What we’re doing is looking at this for the long-term, to employ young people in an industry that’s not dying.

In Delaware, one of the biggest areas of growth for drones is agriculture, Nix II says.
“If you have a thousand acres of corn, you can’t walk through it, you can’t see all of it unless you hire an expensive helicopter,” he says. “The drone can get in there, map it all out. They can assess irrigation issues, apply fertilizer.”
Drones are also used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and emergency personnel to help locate people who are lost or stranded in a disaster, the news media, oil and gas companies and construction companies. Insurance companies can do external inspections and damage assessment by drone. Drones are also used to film sports, concerts and other outdoor events. The real estate industry loves drones.
“Say you’re selling a beautiful beach house in Dewey or Bethany Beach — real estate agents love spectacular overhead shots. And they’re willing to pay good money for it,” Nix II says.
And these are just some of the uses that are already in place.
Recognizing this as a potential billion-dollar industry, the Nixes started working on the for-profit Drone Workforce Solutions in 2015, but this is the year they plan to see it take off (pun intended!).
Starting in June, they will be offering free information sessions where people can get an up-close look at the drones they use in their training. These include a drone students build from a kit to familiarize them with its inner workings, and a professional-grade Phantom Advanced drone like the one that’s included in the 10-week tuition price.
Sessions will officially start in August. After the 10-week training period and passing the FAA test, Drone Workforce Solutions helps with job placement. The full price for the 10-week course and employment services is $7,500, including the $1,500 drone that students keep.

Classes will be held mainly at the new location in Wilmington on Justison Street. They also have space at the Chamber of Commerce Building in New Castle.

Financial aid is available for qualifying students. For more information about Drone Workforce Solutions, including information about hiring a drone pilot, check out its site.


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