College achieves unmanned flight training milestone


Dan Spatz
Executive Director, Institutional Advancement, (541) 506-6034

June 25, 2019

The Columbia River Gorge hosts one of the world’s largest concentrations of design and manufacturing for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Columbia Gorge Community College, located in the midst of all this, is now the first (and so far only) institution in the Pacific Northwest offering “Trusted Operator Program ‘Level One’” certification training for commercial UAV pilots.

“Level One” is the first of three certification levels established by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, a global non-profit dedicated to the advancement of autonomous systems and robotics. Pilots holding Level One certification have demonstrated their competence to fly UAVs for certain commercial purposes.

“Columbia Gorge Community College has satisfactorily demonstrated the required level of knowledge, skills and proficiency for safe and reliable operation of unmanned aircraft systems, as established by the Trusted Operators Program, and is hereby certified as a TOP Operator Level 1 Service Provider” states the college’s AUVSI certificate, which is valid through April 2021.

In addition, Columbia Gorge Community College offers a certificate training program for small autonomous aircraft (“sUAS”, defined by weight) comprising three courses of four credits each. The first course prepares students to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote Pilot Exam (“107” certification). All three courses provide flight training to pass qualification exams for TOP Level certifications.

CGCC instructor Mike Davis, a fifth-generation Tygh Valley resident and pilot who returned home following an international business career, led the process to qualify Columbia Gorge Community College as TOP Level One Service Provider. Until now, Las Vegas been the closest place sUAS pilots could go to obtain a Level One certification. Davis is a commercial pilot with degrees in electrical engineering and international law; he founded Aero Drone, a company based in Tygh Valley that provides UAS training, consulting and flight testing.

Students completing CGCC certificate program will receive an “Unmanned Aircraft System Professional Certificate” from CGCC.

So, what’s next?

Davis, and Mary Kramer, Dean of Career & Technical Education, said CGCC will be seeking TOP Level II certification as a service provider by late summer of this year; UAV pilots holding this certificate demonstrate the ability to operate in more demanding conditions. Ultimately, the college hopes to achieve Level III certification. Pilots who complete this rigorous training will have demonstrated their ability to pilot UAVs for very specialized, industrial applications such as inspection of high-voltage transmission lines and wind turbine blades.

All three certification levels have been developed within the past five years, as regulators and industry attempt to keep up with popular interest in UAVs, which can pose a hazard if flown improperly.

Finally, Davis and Kramer hope to offer some of the training through distance education, reaching people throughout the college’s 10,000 square mile service area.

“We’re on new ground, and this will benefit industry everywhere,” Davis said. “Our approach of building practical skills really fits with our experience in renewable energy and electro-mechanical technology. The added value is, as a service provider, we can now help people who are in this business already, and who need the certificate to grow their business.”

“It has huge potential here,” said Mary Kramer. “We want to grow what we already have in our region. Just as we’ve done with renewable energy training, this is something else that puts CGCC on the map.”