UH Regents approve provisional aeronautical sciences program at UH Hilo

The program has two concentrations, one in commercial professional pilot training and another in commercial aerial information technology (drone technology)—both are projected workforce needs in the state. 

By Susan Enright.

Two drone operators in bright orange t-shirts and holding control equipment for drone, with drone sitting on the lawn just prior to take off.
UH Hilo drone team took a lead role in collecting data during the recent lava flow in Puna. Photo via UH System News.

A new aeronautical sciences degree program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was approved by the UH Board of Regents at their monthly meeting held yesterday at Honolulu Community College. The provisional bachelor of science program has two concentrations, one in commercial professional pilot training, and another in commercial aerial information technology (which utilizes drones), where there is a high projected workforce need in the state.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

“The commercial professional pilot training track places graduates on a solid footing to pursue a career as an airline pilot at a much more reasonable total educational cost than if they attended a mainland university with a similar program,” says Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Management where the new program is housed. “Due to the increasing demand for pilots resulting from a high proportion now entering retirement age coupled with rising air travel globally the prospects for rewarding career opportunities are high.”

He continues, “Furthermore, the commercial aerial information technology track offers considerable career opportunities in the areas of unmanned aerial systems, [commonly called] UAS or drone, based agricultural and natural resource management field monitoring services, precision pest and weed control, search and rescue, security services, and expected growth into delivery and air transport services.”

A drone flying in the sky with a bird flying in the distance in the lower right corner.
A drone flown by student during a lab practice session in Hilo, Nov. 2017. Photo by Kimiko Taguchi/UH Hilo Stories.

Mathews credits Ken Hon, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, for this program launch, “as he worked tirelessly for months to get it in a position for BOR approval.”

The program aligns with current professional programs at UH Hilo that prepare students for the workforce such as accounting, business, education, nursing, pharmacy, and counseling psychology, by providing a degree pathway to commercial aviation. The university has already established a certificate program in unmanned aircraft systems (drone technology), which was launched last year as a first step toward the aeronautical sciences program.

Technician kneeling down on lawn looking over various flying equipment and a drone laid out in front of him. Watermark: the photo was taken by Kimiko Taguchi for UH Hilo Stories.
UH Hilo graduate student Andy Cole, an auxiliary student flight instructor and president of the Hawai‘i County Radio Control Flight Club, sets up unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, during a field training session in Hilo, Nov. 2017.

The new bachelor of science degree program will integrate aeronautical sciences with UH Hilo’s existing STEM programs in general education as well as in agriculture, conservation biology, natural hazards, marine and terrestrial resources, astronomy, and geographic information systems education and research. As with many of UH Hilo’s academic programs, the experiential training ground for students will be the unique geographical characteristics of the island.

The proposed program also aligns with UH Hilo’s focus on the application of science (agriculture, conservation biology, geography, geology, environmental sciences, marine science, and astronomy) using tools for information development including geographical information systems, data visualization, and data science.

Instructor and student doing prep in lab.
UH Hilo instructor Roberto Rodriguez (left) helps student prepare for drone field practice during a lab session, Nov. 2017.

The program will add to UH Hilo students’ toolkit for data collection, information creation, and information communication, and strengthen both undergraduate and graduate research across those fields.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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