FAA Clears Drones for Takeoff at Bergen

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Bergen’s main campus in Paramus photographed from a hobbyist’s drone.

 PARAMUS, N.J. –The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Bergen Community College clearance to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), making it one of only three community colleges to receive such an exemption from the federal government. The exemption will allow the College to enter the U.S. National Airspace System and offer educational programs featuring the operation of the popular technology.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles represent a technological revolution, but one that remains in its infancy,” Bergen Vice President of Academic Affairs William Mullaney, Ph.D., said. “With the exemption granted by the FAA, Bergen is positioned at the forefront of this revolution, offering an opportunity for students, and the region as a whole, to study cutting-edge robotics that very few institutions of higher education currently possess. It speaks to the College’s commitment to innovative programs and the importance of educating the next generation of science and technology professionals.”

College officials first sought permission from the federal government in June, petitioning the FAA to operate drones for the purpose of photography and videography – the principal interests of most professional drone users and hobbyists. Bergen will now leverage the exemption through offering credit and non-credit coursework – including training programs for newsgathering and law enforcement agencies seeking proficiency in using the technology.

To date, members of the STEM Student Union and the Bergen County Applied Technology High School located at the College have worked with drones as hobbyists, but not as part of official coursework.

The first programs covered under the exemption will run this summer as part of the Division of Continuing Education’s “Kids and Teens Summer Program.” Previously, the College offered summer classes that included designing and fabricating drones, but none featured outdoor flights. For more information on these programs, email cgillespie@bergen.edu.

As part of the FAA exemption, the College must adhere to numerous stipulations, including a 200-foot aerial height and a 500-foot buffer between airborne drones and all buildings and pedestrians. A licensed “pilot in command,” as defined by the FAA, must accompany all drone flights on campus. The College must renew the exemption by Jan. 31, 2018.

The ability to offer programs featuring drones represents another step in the College’s continued focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching and education. The federal government estimates U.S. employers will add nine million STEM jobs by 2022. In 2011, the College secured a $3.8 million U.S. Department of Education grant to fund the Graduation Pathway to Success Project, a five-year initiative to prepare STEM students for graduation, transfer to four-year schools and entry to professional fields. To support those goals, and buoyed by a $2 million grant from the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust, the College established an aviation program to train aeronautics professionals. Two flight simulators reside at the main campus.

The Buehler Trust also supported the College’s recent drone petition to the federal government, providing a $9,500 grant for consulting fees and application assistance.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls 16,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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