Asia is nurturing the next generation of drone pilots

Work hard, play hard.
Work hard, play hard.
Image: DJI
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In March, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI opened their flagship store in Seoul. If that wasn’t enough to satisfy aerial enthusiasts in South Korea, the country also just got the world’s first-ever training-ground-for-drones.

DJI officially opened its first arena in South Korea to the public on Wednesday (Aug. 17). In a press release, the drone manufacturer described the facility as “a gathering place for aerial enthusiasts as well as a practice venue for those who are learning about aerial technology such as first-time pilots.”

The 15,000-square-foot arena offers an adjustable LED-lit circuit for pilots who want to practice. Spectators can see first-person views from the drones on LCD TVs mounted around the arena. The site also has a maintenance room equipped with charging docks and workstations for minor repairs. ”Our goal is to make aerial technology more accessible, reliable, and easier to use for anyone who wants to use it,” said DJI Korea Country Manager Moon Tae-hyun, according to the release.

The arena is also another sign that drone flying is no longer just a hobby. Professional pilots are in demand at some of the world’s biggest companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, who are willing to pay big bucks for them; even the U.S. Air Force is looking to hire drone pilots. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that drones could create 100,000 U.S. jobs in the next 10 years, if the Federal Aviation Administration permits their commercial use.

While in the US, commercial drone fliers and the FAA continually bump heads, many Asian countries have long welcomed governmental and commercial use. There, drones are making their way into a slew of commercial industries—agriculture, entertainment, law enforcement. Drones are frequently used for data collection, mapping, and tracking. In Singapore, drones even wait on tables at restaurants and bars. The proliferating job outlets are creating a massive supply and demand gap, that appears to be growing: in 2015, China’s Civil Aviation Administration estimated that by 2018, the country would need more than 30,000 civilian drone pilots, according to Shanghaiist. To satisfy the newfound demand, pilots need to be trained and licensed.

At the DJI Seoul arena, the world’s leading drone maker is not only providing experienced drone pilots an outlet to practice, but it is also breeding the next crop of pilots. Starting Sept. 1, children between the ages of eight and 16 can receive training at DJI’s Flying Academy at the new arena, and can learn the features of the Phantom 4, the company’s latest drone. Pilots will also be given safety tips and best practices over eight sessions during the course of one month. One-on-one training is available for a more tailored learning experience too. (The company did not respond with the cost of these courses.)

Other training programs are cropping up across Asia. In just the last year over 40 drone schools have been established in China, offering short, intensive courses. For instance, TT Aviation students can complete a two-week course for 8,000 yuan ($1,200). ”Young men in particular are flocking to drone schools…hoping to land a potentially lucrative job in an exciting new field,” according to Japan Times. Other institutions are beginning to offer even more advances training programs: for example, one high school in the Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, plans to offer a 3-year course on drones, that won’t just offer flight training, but advances classes on the workings of the flying machines, aviation laws, programming and more. It’s a sign that many are beginning to see drones as a full-fledged industry, and not just a niche hobby.

And since practice makes perfect, amateur drone pilots can head to the new arena and train.