HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES — Growth of opportunities to become educated in the seemingly endless uses for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) suggests drones are at the center of an emerging local industry. 

 It’s currently predicted that more than 19,700 jobs associated with all aspects of UAVs will be created in the Florida Panhandle over the next decade as the use of drones increases across many industries as a sophisticated way to be more efficient and cost effective.

In response to the impending demand for drone professionals, Florida Panhandle Technical College is partnering with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Unmanned Safety Institute (USI), Farm Bureau and University of Florida/IFAS to deliver curriculum in the college’s new Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS) Academy.

“The mission of the Unmanned Vehicle Systems Academy is to be the UVS training epicenter for the Florida Panhandle, utilizing our resources in agriculture, surveying, transportation and public safety,” said FPTC Director Martha Compton. 

 Brandon Stevenson, FPTC instructor slated to teach the college’s first courses on UAVs this fall, said the academy will focus on providing students with certifications as a foundation in drone education by delivering courses in ground school and safety training.

FPTC held a workshop Feb. 26 for prospective students and those in the pilot training community to learn more about ways UAVs are used specifically in agricultural and surveying.

“I’d like to use unmanned for surveying,” said Haston Deal, 16, a junior at Bethlehem High School who is enrolled in the drone program there facilitated by Embry-Riddle.

Deal said he’s learning how drones are used to photograph crop fields and how LiDAR data is used to create 3D images. Deal’s interest in surveying stems from his father’s occupation as a district surveyor at Florida Department of Transportation. FPTC hopes to attract students like Deal who see themselves on a career path in which they will encounter drones.

The workshop was the first in a series FPTC will host on the last Friday in upcoming months. The March workshop will cover UAV use in the transportation industry, and April’s workshop will give an overview of drone use in search and rescue.

Stevenson said the academy’s courses will be the ideal starting point for anyone interested in drones as a hobby or future career.

“Once they get that certification, they can branch out in whatever they want to do whether it’s agriculture, transportation or search and rescue,” said Stevenson.