Adrian Harewood has been in the finance field ever since receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. But now he is working toward a dramatic career shift into the nascent but growing commercial drone pilot industry.
Harewood is among the 15 students in SMC Extension/Community Ed’s first Commercial Drone Pilot Training program, which was launched last fall. The program is taught in three modules: Preparation for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote Pilot in Command Exam; hands-on flight training; and a 120-hour externship at a commercial drone company. All 15 students passed the FAA exam and all are currently serving their externships.
(The next session of Commercial Drone Pilot Training begins March 9.)
“I’ve always had an interest in aeronautical engineering and I wanted to take a look at an infant but burgeoning field for a career change,” Harewood said. “I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk, and there’s a fun element to piloting drones.”
Harewood is right to say the opportunities for drone pilot careers are growing. 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.
Typical of a job opportunity was a recent listing on indeed.com for a drone pilot with 0 to 3 years experience paying $30 to $40 an hour as a contract worker. Barry Brennen, instructor of the course at SMC, said most drone pilot jobs work on a contract basis.
Brennan, owner of Redondo Beach-based Flying Lion, Inc., said his first class at SMC was diverse, ranging in age from 18 to 64, with one-third women and several couples.
“Students are motivated before they get to us,” Brennan said. “There’s a high level of interest so the class has worked out really well.”
Brennan believes one of the reasons the field is growing so fast is that the applications for drone use are increasing rapidly. Among those who use drones are law enforcement agencies, property developers, energy companies, nature preserves and environmentalists, cinema, agriculture and more. In Los Angeles, he said the demand for drones “has gone up dramatically in the past few months” related to the recent, devastating wildfires, particularly in the insurance industry.
Student Harewood has been doing his externship with Sky Ladder Drones in Torrance. Recently a group of externs went out with company owner Steven Katz on a building inspection job of a downtown Los Angeles building. Harewood was also part of a team that mapped the 100-acre Point Dume Club community of Malibu, which lost homes in the recent Woolsey Fire.
But Harewood, who runs his own financial consulting practice and who says he is not “quitting his day job yet,” hopes to turn his piloting skills into work with a nonprofit. He’s still not sure in which direction, but noted that environmental organizations and governments are using drones for biological research and preservation, anti-poaching activities in Africa, and more.
Brennan, meanwhile, has enjoyed not only running his business but also teaching drone piloting.
“I just love the teaching aspect of it – particularly the ah-ha moment when the students get it,” he said.
Katz, Sky Ladder owner, says the SMC externs working with him “are well trained, professional and excited to be learn in the field.”
Brennan 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.”