Only Pennsylvania University to Offer FAA-CTI Certified Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (Drone) Program

The Federal Aviation Administration has selected Indiana University of Pennsylvania as an FAA Collegiate Training Institution, which allows IUP’s program to be part of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Collegiate Training Initiative program (UAS-CTI).

John Benhart and students piloting a drone on the IUP campusIUP, which has offered an Unmanned Aerial Systems Science and Applications Certificate since 2018, is the only university in Pennsylvania chosen by the FAA for this recognition.

IUP’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems certificates are designed to prepare students to become FAA-certified remote pilots of small-unmanned aircraft (sUAS, commonly referred to as drones), which are defined by the FAA as aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.

FAA Eastern Region Deputy Regional Administrator Steven Jones announced IUP’s CTI designation at the 2023 Aerium Summit held recently at John Murtha Airport in Johnstown.

John Benhart Jr., professor of regional planning in IUP’s Department of Geography, Geology, Environment, and Planning and director of IUP’s Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Programs and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certificate Programs, will direct the UAS-CTI program.

“It’s definitely an honor for IUP’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems certificates to receive this designation from the Federal Aviation Administration, and to be the only university in Pennsylvania that the FAA has designated as a UAS Certified Training Institution,” Benhart said. Benhart is also a GISCI-certified GIS professional and an FAA-certified remote sUAS pilot.

The FAA’s UAS-CTI program recognizes institutions that prepare students for careers in unmanned aircraft systems. In order to qualify for the initiative, schools must offer a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in UAS or a degree with a minor, concentration, or certificate in UAS. Schools must provide a curriculum covering various aspects of UAS training, including hands-on flight practice, maintenance, uses, applications, privacy concerns, safety, and federal policies concerning UAS.

Benhart developed IUP’s program based on his interest in high-accuracy mapping.

“IUP was really ahead of the curve in terms of using drones to do mapping in our Geographic Information Science program,” he said. “Offering the training for students to prepare to become FAA-certified remote pilots and to carry our drone flight missions was a natural outgrowth of our programs in the department.”

To date, about 40 students, mostly from IUP, have completed IUP’s UAS program, which includes 12 credit hours of study.

“We have been building very good momentum for the IUP program, and we expect that this FAA certification and recognition of the quality of our program will help us to grow in enrollment,” he said. “The FAA approval for IUP to offer the UAS-CTI program shows that not only does our program meet their specifications and expectations, but that they are confident in our training.”

Benhart said that there is a current shortage of drone pilots, and he anticipates that the need for qualified pilots will continue to increase, especially as drone usage becomes increasingly integrated into more industries and occupations.

“While right now the largest number of students enrolled in the drone certification program is from our department, students are from many different disciplines: criminology, communications (especially students interested in photography and videography), safety sciences, anthropology, and biology. Drones are a great way to keep people out of high-risk situations while enabling the collection of high-quality and time-sensitive information,” he said.

IUP’s program provides students with both foundational knowledge and hands-on technical skill training. Topics included in IUP’s program are:

  • The regulatory environment for UAS in the United States
  • Basics of UAS design and operation
  • Aeronautics and flight theory
  • Requirements for FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot certification
  • Remote sensing and photogrammetric concepts
  • Mission planning
  • UAS mission flight techniques
  • Processing techniques for data deliverables

According to FAA officials, with the rapid growth of the unmanned aircraft systems industry, there is a need to ensure that new technology is safely integrated into the National Airspace System and that there is a pipeline of qualified professionals to meet the increasing demand. Because of this, and in response to a Congressional requirement, the FAA established the Collegiate Training Initiative to prepare students for careers in UAS.

The UAS-CTI program’s goal is to collaborate with schools to deliver up-to-date UAS training that matches the requirements of the National Airspace System and helps provide qualified applicants for careers involving UAS.