When surveying the drone markets globally, China has one of the fastest growing markets. China is experiencing many of the same trends we are experiencing here, drone technology is rapidly improving and pricing is rapidly declining. In China, the rapid market growth and commercial acceptance has led to a serious shortage of certified drone pilots. Is this shortage an indicator of things to come in our market?
A drone or UAV (Unmanned Aviation Vehicle) have become increasingly popular for recreational use, agriculture, film casting and delivery sectors, along with espionage. Following reports from this summer that drone pilots would be required to have a license in some parts of China, the Civil Aviation Administration has launched some of the country’s first drone-flying schools.
According to the Civil Aviation Administration’s preliminary estimates, China’s demand for civilian UAV pilots will exceed 30,000 by 2018. At present there are 42 training centres in China and only 700 people have licenses, a figure that the Administration is calling “a serious shortage”.
Is the drone operator shortage in China an early indicator of things to come here? I believe so. That means if you are interested in a career in drones, then earning your “Commercially Ready Drone Operator” certification and receiving a Section 333 Exemption has never been more important. In our market, that is going to be as close to a drone operator license as you can get, at least today.
A license requirement for flying drones was rolled out last year, when the Chinese government began to fear that the plethora of amateur drone operators was compromising public safety. CCTV News reported, for example, that local authorities had to free a mini drone that got stuck in a high-voltage power line in Shanghai. Now, regulations require drone operators to have a license to fly anything weighing more than 7 kilograms (15 pounds) above 12 meters (40 feet) and for more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) out of the pilot’s sight.
Operating a drone isn’t like flying a remote-controlled plane. “I found many clients take the drones out to fly without reading the instructions or watching the instruction video, because they think it is very easy,” Leng Jun, a mini-drone seller in China, told a CCTV news reporter in July. He recalled a customer who lost his drone more than a half a mile away after pressing the wrong button on the remote control. “He didn’t find his drone until one in the morning.”
So what does it take to earn your license? At one drone-flying school in Shenzhen, Guangdong, the cheapest tuition is 130,000 yuan (over $20,000 U.S. dollars) for 120 hours of training. In the town of Changping, Beijing, a 10-day class will cost you 80,000 yuan, or over $12,500 U.S. dollars, reports China Daily. Students spend those days learning how to assemble a drone, how to fly one through game simulations—and to hit the books. To earn their license, students must pass not only a practical test but also a theory exam.
Thankfully pricing in the United States isn’t as high as it is in China. For example, if you already have your SPL, you can graduate from Drone Universities with a total tuition cost as low as $3,000. That includes your Section 333 Exemption. For those without SPLs, if you estimate $8,000 for SPL training and testing (national averages range between $5,000 to $8,500), that still brings your total cost to $11,000 and when you graduate, you are a legitimate pilot. A sport pilot, but a pilot, nonetheless, capable of piloting a light-sport aircraft. (Keep in mind, all pricing provided here is for Drone Universities. We offer drone college courses in rotating locations around the United States and at our Section 333 Exempt drone training facility in California’s Central Valley.)