SINGAPORE - Drone enthusiasts can soon take up courses at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), the first and only public education institution here to be allowed to teach drone courses and certify flyers - at subsidised rates.
These classes, which range from seven hours over a day to 28 hours over four days, are open to the public and eligible for SkillsFuture subsidies.
Drone flyers stand to save thousands of dollars if they enrol in the ITE's programme instead of going to the other five certified unmanned aircraft training organisations here, which are run by private training providers.
The ITE course fees are from $67 to $654, after the SkillsFuture subsidies.
ITE's training facilities, which come with an indoor drone simulator with a 180-degree curved projection screen and a fully netted outdoor drone flying area, are seen as unique by drone trainers.
Classes for interested students and corporate staff will begin in March, making drone flying more mainstream and accessible to the general public.
Dr Lim See Yew, senior director of the school of engineering at ITE College Central, said demand for its drone courses is expected to be high.
There were more than 800 drone pilots in Singapore in May 2018, and the numbers have been growing since.
Said Dr Lim: "Current course fees for drone training conducted by private companies in Singapore can be expensive. For instance, it may cost up to $4,999 for certain drone courses.
"In addition, drone courses provided by private training organisations are not supported by SkillsFuture subsidies and participants cannot use their SkillsFuture credits to offset the course fees.
"ITE recognised the need to provide the public access to affordable and professional drone licence training."
Unmanned aircraft training organisations are certified by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), in line with requirements that kicked in at the start of this month.
Among the conditions, all adults flying drones above 1.5kg must go through training and pass an examination to get licensed to certify they are qualified to fly the unmanned aerial vehicles safely.
Those who fly drones without the appropriate licences can be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $50,000, or both for the first offence.
There are now six approved training organisations. ITE was approved on Jan 12. The others are Garuda Robotics, MIRS Innovate, Avetics Global, Apollo Global Academy and CWT Aerospace Services.
Dr Lim said drones have "tremendous utility" in sectors from urban development to logistics, and he expects them to be used widely across industries soon to enhance efficiency and productivity.
To be certified as a training organisation, ITE had to demonstrate to the CAAS that it has enough qualified drone pilot instructors, equipment and facilities to conduct training and practical assessment.
It also has two lecturers who have been approved to take on the role of authorised flight examiner. They will administer the tests on behalf of CAAS.
Mr Chua Chong Lian, 46, one of the lecturers who will take on the additional mantle of being an authorised flight examiner, said drones are a "double-edged sword", as their ease of operation and niftiness "lend themselves to nefarious uses".
The aerospace avionics lecturer strongly supports proper training for students to fly drones, which he said will also ease public suspicion of the new technology.