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As drone popularity grows, Valley school has program to fill need for drone engineers, pilots

There will be plenty of drones under the tree this holiday season, but besides flying for fun, drones are becoming more popular in a wide range of industries.

Due to its increasing popularity, there is now a higher demand for engineers and pilots, and one Valley school is looking to help fill that need.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College has a new drone-related program, and the school is now one of the first to offer drone studies in higher education.

"Students can take classes that leads to a Part 107 certificate. That is for everyone who would like to fly a drone for personal reasons, for entertainment, for a job. You need to have this certification," said Gabriela Rosu, Dean of Instruction at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Students can now major in unmanned aircraft systems, and the program is meant to take amateur pilots to the next level.

"Moving in to a whole Associates Degree, learning more about the maintenance, learning about in-depth flying and how to build a drone, and we're expanding into the engineering aspect of the drone," said Rosu.

The school received a $1.3 million grant to build a flight center and simulation lab, where students will learn the ins and outs of the industry.

"They're not only going to receive a basic education or just the fundamentals of the rules and regulations, they're also going to receive a simulated flight experience for a while until they get a true understanding of the flight dynamics and how the components operate correctly," said Aeronautics professor Charles Morgan.

Another major focal point of the course is safety.

"The whole program here is based off of, when we talk about Part 107 certification, is basically safety," said Morgan. "Understanding what you can and can't do, where you can and can't do it, and how to physically fly the things in a correct manner."

Nowadays, there's many opportunities to fly a drone professionally. Several sectors including real estate, construction, and law enforcement are adding the technology.

"With drone technology, we have the capacity to do things safer, faster, more efficient, and really it's all for the benefit of our communities," said Mike Bellows, a commander with the Mesa Police Department.

Bellows has been working with the school, getting trained, and helping to get more officers in the department certified.

"At a crash scene, we used to have to put officers in the middle of a crash scene and roll the scene," said Bellows. "Now, we can do 3D mapping. Same thing with crime scenes. We can 3D map crime scenes. Area searches for missing people with the inferred capabilities on drones. We have the ability to locate people much quicker and more efficient."

The school is already looking at ways to expand the program, in hopes of equipping more graduates for a variety of 21st-century drone careers. Once certification is obtained through the school, an exam through the FAA is still required.