Learning to fly

Drone pilot course provides new opportunities


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North Kildonan


The skies are buzzing with opportunity.

On March 4, six participants in a basic drone pilot accreditation course at Emerson School in North Kildonan received their pilot certificates from Transport Canada. The students, including a reporter, spent two Saturdays studying air law, meteorology, and other basic aeronautical concepts in preparation for a 90-minute exam. They also spent time at the controls of Mavic mini drones, learning how to maneuver the 249-gram machines before running a simulated search and rescue mission in the school gym.

The two-day course was put on by RETLife (the continuing education arm of the River East Transcona School Division) and DecisionWorks Consulting.

Jesse Green, a filmmaker and CEO of Strongfront.tv, an Indigenous video production company, took the course to gain further experience using drones for his business.

“I’m already using drones, so I figured I might as well make it legitimate,” he said.

Basic drone pilot accreditation allows pilots to fly drones weighing between 250 grams and 25 kilograms within certain designated airspace. Although many of the drones on the market for hobbyists fall below that weight category– including the Mavic mini series used by the students in class – drones with more commercial applications tend to weigh in above 250 grams. While most job opportunities for commercial drone pilots require an advanced pilot certificate, the basic certificate allows pilots to gain knowledge and skills that are applicable to advanced operations. Basic certification also allows for piloting the larger drones freely within Class G airspace — which is approximately 95 per cent of Canadian airspace.

“We want to prepare you as drone pilots, not just to pass your exam,” explained instructor Grant Barkman, who is both an aircraft and advanced drone pilot.

Barkman is also president of DecisionWorks Consulting, which runs a drone-specific consultancy branch called DroneWorks. He said that, while Canada has made big investments in the drone industry, and is generally at the leading edge of developing regulatory frameworks for commercial applications, the industry is constantly in flux.

“ This is still a cowboy industry.

“This is still a cowboy industry,” he said, noting that new applications for drone use are being developed all the time. In an information economy, drones are the future.

“Drones are the data collectors of the sky,” he said.

Rosie Ponce, a market gardener and mother of three from Inglis, Man., made the nearly 400-kilometre drive in to Winnipeg on consecutive weekends to take the course. She hopes to one day be able to pilot drones for agricultural producers in her area.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there,” she said, referring to the farmers who are willing to embrace the technology.

Kirsten Kruse, a University of Winnipeg geography student, said she plans to make use of her new drone pilot certification both academically and recreationally as a nature and wildlife photographer.

Amit Patel, a data scientist who works for DecisionWorks doing back-end data analysis, took the course so that he’d be more familiar with how data is collected. He also said his children, who still live in his home country of India, are becoming interested in drones, and figured it would be a good way for them to bond.

Randy Pokrant, who works in construction and manufacturing, took the course out of personal interest.

“There’s just so many applications,” he said.

Naomi Kruse, program co-ordinator for RETLife, was thrilled by the response to the course, confirming that RETLife intends to offer it again, and would also be open to offering an advanced pilot-accreditation course, should there prove to be demand.

“This type of programming is needed for the future due to the possibilities that it provides,” Kruse said. “I feel it has an exciting future in the division and in our programming lineup and am really looking forward to seeing how it takes off.”

For more information on DroneWorks, visit decisionworks.ca/drone-training-and-applications/

For more information on upcoming RETLife courses, visit retlife.ca

Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community Journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at sheldon.birnie@canstarnews.com Call him at 204-697-7112

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