Drones have entered the national consciousness in many ways over the past few years, but what most people probably don’t know is that the future of careers in commercial drone piloting is booming.

Barry Brennen, who will teach the Commercial Drone Pilot Training program

The Federal Aviation Administration projects the commercial, small drone fleet is set to grow from 110,000-plus in 2017 to almost 452,000 in 2022. The number of commercial remote pilots is set to increase from 73,000-plus in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.

And so, SMC Extension/Community Education – always on the lookout for training opportunities in careers with exceptional growth projections – will debut its Commercial Drone Pilot Training program this fall.

“I think the future in this is huge,” says Barry Brennen, owner of Redondo Beach-based Flying Lion, Inc., who will teach the courses for Extension/Community Ed. “The industry is growing because there are so many applications.”


The applications for drone use seem endless and grow every day – for law enforcement agencies, property developers, energy companies, nature preserves and environmentalists, cinema, agriculture and more.

Flying Lion, for example, has mostly law enforcement clients (including the Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach Police Departments) that find drones helpful for many uses – including barricaded subject situations, serving search warrants (to detect anyone fleeing from the scene), beach crime monitoring, and crowd surveillance (such as medical emergencies or lost children).

But that’s just one field. Developers can do aerial surveys. Energy and public utility companies can use drones equipped with infrared to detect overheating in cell towers, solar panels, refineries and more. Search and rescue teams can use them for their operations.

And that’s not all. In Africa, where air traffic is much less congested than in most parts of the world and where there are fewer restrictions on drones, the unmanned aircraft are used to track poachers and deliver medication to rural areas, Brennen said.

Environmental and government agencies are using drones nicknamed “snot bots” to monitor whales’ blowholes to determine the health of the large sea mammals.

And at the sprawling Tejon Ranch Conservancy just north of Los Angeles, biologists are examining the distribution of invasive plants, observing the changes in oak canopy cover responding to drought, tracking invasive wild pig damage in sensitive habitats, and monitoring conifer mortality on rugged high elevation slopes.

The Commercial Drone Certification program will have three parts: FAA Test Prep (three Saturdays), Flight Training (two Saturdays) and an Externship, in which students will work 120 hours with a company that uses drones. Cost of the certification program is about $1,700.

Barry Brennen

Brennen, who was in the logistics field for 20 years before starting his company in 2014, said the birth of Flying Lions came about as a result of his Master’s of Business Administration degree at USC. In his Entrepreneurship class, his team had to pitch an idea for a business start-up, and he came up with the idea of a commercial drone firm. His team won the class competition.

As a reserve police officer with the Redondo Beach Police Department, it was a natural for him to reach out to law enforcement when he founded his company.

Then, driven by a passion for his field, he approached El Camino College to start a program and began teaching the certification course. He also teaches at Pasadena City College.

“I just love the teaching aspect of it – particularly the ah-ha moment when the students get it,” he said.

Brennen sees another advantage to commercial drone pilot training.

“Drones are going to be the way to get people excited about aviation,” he said, noting that the industry is facing a shortage of trained commercial pilots. “It’s a great gateway to get into flying.”

Barry Brennen will teach Commercial Drone Pilot Training beginning Oct. 13.

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