More drones will take flight over the Westman skyline before long.
Matthew Johnson, a high school teacher from Winnipeg, will bring his ground school to Brandon later this month to teach people interested in using drones — an aircraft piloted without a human onboard — for commercial purposes.
Last December, Transport Canada bolstered the regulatory requirements for flying an unmanned aircraft, mandating anybody who uses a drone for any reason beyond the enjoyment of flying must complete a registered course.
"In the last month, we’ve pushed 35 pilots through the program, across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and we’ve had excellent reviews," Johnson said. "It’s very motivating to teach people who are so fired up about learning this stuff."
Realizing the potential for drone technology, which has exploded in popularity as an operator’s eye in the sky, Johnson launched what amounted to a media production company in 2015.
He redirected his focus to the agriculture sector primarily, and in recent months added a training school to his repertoire.
"It’s just snowballed from there, being able to combine my education background with my passion, running this business," Johnson said. "It seemed like a natural flow to provide training."
In the March 28-29 course, Johnson will not teach budding pilots how to fly — many of his students have that background, he notes. His class will focus on the theoretical knowledge behind sharing airspace and comprehending meteorology, among other considerations.
The content may be tedious, but his students are a keen bunch.
"They’re fully engaged, so that’s very encouraging," he said.
These days, drones are getting plenty of press, as the aircraft and its various uses become better known.
In agriculture, farmers can use drones to inspect the health of their crop through photographs, and by equipping a drone with sensors, farmers can learn when is the best time to use inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.
This aerial vantage point also benefits industries like real estate, construction and mining.
"It’s taking off now because the price point is coming down," Johnson said of the unmanned aircraft, noting the cost of a quality drone is $1,500.
There are auxiliary costs, too, such as purchasing batteries, insurance, enrolling in a ground school course like what Johnson offers and obtaining a Special Flight Operations Certificate.
Johnson has taken his passion for drone-flying to youth, teaching students after-school at Elmwood High School in Winnipeg as part of the Drone Club.
By 18, students can seek employment as skilled drone pilots.
"There are companies in agriculture in Manitoba who are looking for pilots to fly drones all day," he said.
People can sign-up for the $550 course to be held at the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation in Brandon, which includes in-class instruction and supplementary online study, at www.m3aerial.com. The registration deadline is March 21.
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