UND Aerospace achieves rare air — again

UND UAS experts part of elite next-phase for unmanned flight in national airspace

Image courtesy of UND Aerospace.

UND Aerospace is synonymous with flight training excellence.

And as the Federal Aviation Administration prepares for expanded use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the National Airspace, UND’s flying legacy has put it among the leaders that will make it happen. UND recently was among the first institutions selected for the FAA’s new Collegiate Training Initiative for UAS, according to a recent announcement by the FAA.

The University’s participation in the program, in close partnership with the FAA, will ensure that there is a pipeline of qualified professionals to meet increasing demands in the UAS industry and UAS implementation into the national airspace.

The FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program has been in place for more than 25 years. It was first developed to help schools deliver up-to-date air traffic control training to provide the FAA with qualified air traffic controller applicants. UND has been involved in the AT-CTI program since the program’s inception.

Per the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the FAA was required to extend the CTI program to UAS, which has now resulted in new memorandums of understanding between the FAA and eligible institutions of higher education.

The FAA wrote that the program’s mission is to “collaborate with selected schools to deliver up-to-date UAS training tools, resources, and guidelines that will prepare students for careers in UAS and continue to maintain the safety of the National Airspace System.”

Paul Snyder

Paul Snyder, UAS program director at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, said the announcement reinforces UND’s position at the forefront of UAS education and research.

In 2009, UND was the first university to establish a degree program for UAS Operations.

“This new level of partnership will help the FAA address labor force needs and ensure that graduates have the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a successful career,” Snyder said. “The CTI distinction reflects our attitude of wanting to continuously improve UND’s UAS program.

“As this industry develops, we’re not waiting to see what happens – we’re stepping in to be part of its rapid growth.”

Paul Drechsel

Speaking from his experience guiding and instructing UND’s Air Traffic Management program, Associate Professor Paul Drechsel said the CTI partnership for air traffic control puts in place a reliable hiring source for students, and has provided a standardized training program allowing UND to excel.

“With our history in ATC – going beyond minimum requirements laid out by the program and developing exceptional, qualified candidates – the FAA knows UND is going to go above and beyond with UAS,” Drechsel said. “Being part of the CTI program has been a great advantage for our past graduates, and our future graduates both in ATC and UAS will have that advantage, as well. This is a great opportunity.”

Drechsel followed by saying North Dakota’s congressional delegation has consistently kept UND in mind as aviation-related legislation comes to fruition, such as 2018’s FAA Reauthorization Act.

Flanked by Dean of UND Aerospace Paul Lindseth and Air Traffic Organization’s Deputy Chief Tim Arel, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., discussed his introduction of bipartisan legislation that would reform the air traffic controller hiring practices of the FAA. UND archival image.

This spring, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., co-wrote the Air Traffic Controller Hiring Reform Act that was instrumental in maintaining the value of an Air Traffic Management degree from UND. The language of the bill, passed through the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, reestablished the hiring priority of CTI graduates as air traffic controllers.

“UND is a world-class aviation school and plays a significant role in the nation’s UAS ecosystem,” said Hoeven. “It makes sense for the FAA to rely further on UND to meet the workforce needs of this quickly growing industry. That’s exactly why we authorized this program through the 2018 FAA reauthorization, and this selection builds on our state’s role as a hub of UAS research, development, training and operations.”

Brett Venhuizen

Brett Venhuizen, chair of the Department of Aviation, noted that while the UAS industry has been around for a number of years, it is still in its relative infancy, when compared to manned aviation.

“The connections we’re making with the FAA are huge, and it will be really interesting for our UAS program to be part of this new effort,” Venhuizen said. “The CTI program has been a large factor in the success of our air traffic management program, and I can see a bright future for UAS and our involvement with the FAA.”