Drone company partners with CCC for workforce training

By Nathan Duff The Press Register | Posted: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 3:00 pm

Drone company partners with CCC for workforce training

(From left) Steven Jossell, Anne Clark-Shelton, Valmadge Towner, Mayor Bill Luckett,
Donald Green, Bill Blackwelder and Walter Johnson with one of the drones that is
being used to train students at CCC in unmanned aerial systems for use in agriculture.

A company that uses drones to map fields for agricultural purposes has entered into a partnership with Coahoma Community College and the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Workers Opportunities Inc. to begin a workforce training program that would train CCC students as pilots and spotters. Delta Southern UAS will offer services to farmers, land managers and game managers throughout the Delta.

President of Delta Southern UAS Bill Blackwelder said, "We hope to train and put to work over 500 people within two years." The company will employ the pilots and spotters trained through CCC and the MDCFOI, as well as agronomists and analysts that will work with farmers to develop prescriptions based upon the data gathered by the drones.

Don Green, executive director of MDCFOI, said, "We started this program to give some pathways to industry specific training, so we are going to be training people to operate drones." Green also said that within five years, he hopes that the drones will be manufactured in Clarksdale.

Steven Jossell, director of workforce development at CCC said, "I am excited for this excellent opportunity to enhance Coahoma County's workforce through training opportunities."

Blackwelder explained that commercial drone operation is undergoing regulatory changes that will allow for operation of unmanned aerial systems in agricultural applications. The FAA provides for exemptions with the proper certification, and the training program will allow students to obtain a certificate, and that Delta Southern UAS will then be able to employ them.

"You are currently still required to have a pilot's license to commercially operate an unmanned aerial system, even though a drone has nothing to do with flying a real airplane," said Blackwelder. "They are in the process of changing that rule, but that is something that has to be done by Congress."

Blackwelder said that he hopes the new rules will be in place by spring, but if they are not, he is prepared to hire licensed pilots to get the program going.

"The new requirements will be that you are at least 17 years of age, with a valid driver's license, and have completed UAS training and passed the FAA's UAS test," he said.

Dr. Valmadge Towner, president of CCC said, "We are excited about the increased options for our students, and even potentially connecting it with our ag high school and the initiatives that we have there." According to Anne Clark-Shelton, dean of career and technical education, the program will fit within CCC's industrial maintenance program, and that she is already in process of setting up a curriculum to provide training for the program.

Blackwelder said that the main goal of his company is to focus on the Mississippi Delta, with Clarksdale being the epicenter of his efforts.

Mayor Bill Luckett said, "I'm excited to see a high-tech company like this coming into our community, especially when they are hiring local folks to work for them."