Skymount partners with College, creates course preparing students for growing drone industry

Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies (COTR) recently unveiled an intriguing new program that will teach students how to fly drones for career or general interest purposes, in just 11 days. Zubin Kothawala, president of Skymount Drones, with whom the College has partnered with for this program, says that drone-based business is a “big-growth area” and that it’s here to stay.

“When you’re a kid growing up your parents tell you to go to school and learn a skill that will provide you a living,” Kothawala said. “Becoming a commercial drone pilot will give you that opportunity, there’s a big future in drones and the economic opportunity it provides will only continue to grow.”

And there’s money to be made in this growing industry.

Kothawala told the Townsman about a recent job they did, for a landfill in a municipality in Alberta, providing an example that gives insight to how pilots charge for their work. The landfill contracted Skymount to fly over their site in order to provide information on the total cubic metres of trash they had, how big their holes were and other such information so that they could forecast for excavation.

This particular job entailed around two to three hours hours of flying and four hours of processing the data afterwards. Skymount typically charges between $3,000 and $5,000 for that work depending on the type of drone and sensors that are used. The cost of a helicopter is in the millions and the cost of a drone for this type of work ranges from $10,000 to $75,000.

As well as preparing them to write the Transport Canada Basic and Advanced License exams, the new COTR course will teach students how to pilot the drones, process the data and prepare it to be handed off to the clients.

Kothawala has been in talks with Work BC about helping to fund the school in order to provide the courses to wannabe pilots for as low a cost as possible.

“This is something we have been working really hard on,” he said. “We want to be able to offer a course that is accessible to everyone and doesn’t result in high costs for the student.

“We are presently exploring ways to subsidize our program to help remove those financial barriers. Ultimately we want to be able to provide graduates of this program with skills which the market demands from a course which a student can complete in a relatively short period of time and without worrying about the burden of student debt”

The implications for this trade are seemingly endless. Kothawala explained that if you’re a one-man operation and good at marketing yourself, you’re “going to make a good living.”

“Our drone pilots, while onsite get a lot of attention and questions from people interested in what we are doing which has lead to quite a few new projects. We have several successful graduates of our program that have now manager multiple pilots to keep up with the demand for drone services, that’s what’s happening in this market and it’s just starting.

“Oil and gas, forestry and mining companies are just starting to understand how efficient the use of drone technology is.”

Mayor Lee Pratt said that the city is pleased to see Skymount come to Cranbrook.

“Skymount is a world-class organization doing business worldwide,” Pratt told the Townsman. “We were very pleased to introduce them to the College of the Rockies and even happier to see this venture come to fruition. This is another success story and opens Cranbrook up for many opportunities. It fits well into our goal of attracting new industries to Cranbrook, creating many job opportunities in different areas.”

The course is set to begin Oct. 11 and COTR is offering a free introductory class on Thursday, Sept. 19 from 5:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. These classes will cover the future of drone operations, new industry regulations and careers in the drone industry.

For more information and to register for the course, interested people can contact 250-489-8242 or email kkit@cotr.bc.ca

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