In the News: Cargo Drones and the Future of Air Transport Pilots (ATP)

When you think about a future career as a commercial pilot, a drone might be the last aircraft you could possibly think of. Aren't those the buzzy toys that Sharper Image sells, the ones that are always dive-bombing around parks and beaches? Or if we're talking about larger scale drones, aren't those actually a threat to future pilot jobs? Do traditional pilot classes even apply?
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), represent a big category with a growing list of diverse applications, so misconceptions are understandable. But one application in particular represents not a threat but a sizable opportunity for those interested in an air transport career: the emergence of cargo drones.
Most people's notion of drone-based delivery often centers on the headline-grabbing concept that Amazon introduced a few years ago: a tiny drone dropping off on order of coffee pods on your front doorstep. But that application is the "last mile" in a potential drone-based logistics system that could stretch 1,000 miles. Several companies have stepped up to solve the problem of the other 999 miles with massive cargo drones capable of carrying 500 pounds or more, at elevations as high as 22,000 feet.
And that's where the connection to traditional pilot training comes into play. FAA Part 107 regulations governing small drone operations do not apply. Piloting a cargo-laden drone through the harshest weather in remote parts of the world is big-kid stuff, and requires a commercial pilot license (CPL). Because these cargo drones are being used in places where regular cargo planes don't fly -- taking advantage of vertical take-offs and zero visibility flying capabilities -- they represent an additional category of pilot jobs, not a replacement of current ones.
The icing on this particular cake is that, according to Ed De Reyes, CEO of UAV pioneer Sabrewing Aircraft, these pilot jobs do not require the additional ATP (Air Transport Pilot) certificate that traditional air transport would require. This represents a faster, less expensive career path for pilots who choose this route. And in an industry with a compound annual growth rate of 13% per year, this pilots who take this path may find themselves in as high demand as the massively pilot-shorted airline industry.
Will future pilot classes at HAA include drone training? It may be too early to say, but we are committed to keeping our students on the cutting edge as this dynamic industry evolves.