New program launches students’ careers in drone aviation

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SAN DIEGO — A nonprofit in San Diego is offering a new program that will launch high school students’ careers in commercial drone aviation.

The Good Neighbor Project offers hands-on education, employment opportunities and other activities to improve the quality of life for inner-city youth and families in and around the bay of San Diego.  The program serves 3,500 youth and families every year that live in San Diego’s Promise Zone — one of 22 communities around the U.S. that are federally recognized as being some of the most economically disadvantaged in the country.

Founder John Alvarado, a former pilot, started the drone training program to get students interested in flying. Alvarado said after graduation students can make as much as $30 an hour in the commercial drone industry.

“We’re at the cutting edge of some technology that could literally change our community one generation at a time,” Alvarado said.

Katelyn McCauley with the San Diego Regional Economic Corporation said there will be a need for drone pilots in the near future as the technology continues to develop.

“This could open up a huge job market in San Diego,” McCauley said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation selected San Diego last year as one of 10 cities, universities and state and local agencies to participate in the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. Since being selected for the program in May 2018, the city has completed hundreds of flights testing out new ways to incorporate drones into different industries.

Among other programs, they have partnered with Uber Eats to deliver food to SDSU and with the Chula Vista Police Department.

“They’ve been able to save patrol units from having to go on scene just by using the drone. Which is incredible,” McCauley said.

The drone pilot program ends in October 2020. The FAA hopes to use data from the program to develop new regulations on low-altitude drone use in the airspace it oversees.

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