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  • Writer's pictureSimon Golstein

Are drone shows replacing fireworks?

Updated: Jan 17

On December 17 2023, a Christmas drone show in Richland Hills, Texas, USA set a new world record when 1,499 drones formed characters that stood 700 feet tall. And then on New Year’s Eve 2023, in Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, another record was set with a line of drones spanning 2 kilometers.


Traditionally, fireworks have been used to celebrate these occasions. So why are people turning to drone shows instead? 

A long history


Fireworks have been a popular way to celebrate special occasions for more than two thousand years. Originating in ancient China, fireworks quickly spread and became integral parts of celebrations worldwide, including Guy Fawkes in the UK, Independence Day in the US, Bastille Day in France, the Hindu festival of Diwali, New Year’s celebrations everywhere… the list goes on. Indeed, the global fireworks industry was worth around $2.5 billion in 2021.


But drone shows are catching up - worth around $219 million in 2022, and growing at an astounding rate of 25% a year.


Drone display at Marina Bay, Singapore, 2022. Credit: Choo Yut Shing

What’s wrong with fireworks?


Everyone loves fireworks - unless they're animals. In the UK for example, on the fifth of November, pet owners nationwide go to great lengths to minimize trauma to their cats and dogs, including making sure they have somewhere to hide, playing loud music to mask the sound of the explosions, or removing them to a place away from people for the night. A petition signed by more than 100,000 people in 2016 led the UK government to pass further restrictions on use of fireworks.


On a more global scale, an ecological study by the ESA found that on average there are around 1,000 times more birds in flight on New Year’s Eve than on regular nights, with nests often being abandoned by their fleeing owners. Similarly, a study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology found that some GPS-tagged geese flew as far as 500 kilometers to get away from human settlements as a result of New Year’s Eve fireworks.  


Fireworks bring danger to people too. In the US, growing numbers of wildfires have led to cities like Salt Lake City, Boulder and Lake Tahoe officially switching to drone shows for their fourth of July celebrations. And in 2022, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 10,200 fireworks-related injuries, and 11 deaths.


As spectacular as fireworks are, they are explosive devices and inherently dangerous - even before drone shows became a thing, fireworks usage was heavily regulated in most places. For example, in the Netherlands, fireworks can only be sold in the three days preceding New Year’s Eve, and in Australia they are entirely illegal unless the buyer is a licensed pyrotechnician.  

 Drone display in Ttukseom Hangang Park South Korea, May 2023. Credit: Sarunyu L 

Advantages of drone shows over fireworks


The first obvious advantage is the lack of noise, which puts an end to wildlife disruption and trauma to household pets. Fireworks can register 150 decibels, not much less than a gun, and more than enough to cause harm to human ears.  


Drone shows are much safer than fireworks. They are meticulously planned and operated by licensed professionals with extensive safety training, meaning that there is much less risk of accidents occurring. There’s little chance of an errant drone causing a wildfire either.


There are other advantages to the environment too. Fireworks leave behind harmful chemicals in the air and a lot of litter than has to be cleaned up after the show. In addition, they are not reusable. Drones don’t have any of these problems.


Of course, we have to ask - are drones as fun as fireworks? This is a matter of personal taste of course, and fireworks are certainly a thrilling experience. But drone shows are no less spectacular - and as technology progresses, the beauty of controlled choreography in the sky is likely to surpass the thrill of watching explosions.

Interestingly, research by Statista shows that fireworks are not as important to as many people as you might think. They asked people from six different countries if fireworks are integral to New Year’s Eve celebrations, and in no country did the ‘yes’ responses surpass 40%. Mexico was the highest with 37%, and France the lowest with only 10%.

Drone display in Tornesch, Germany, 2015. Credit: Ars Electronica

Airspace control


Of course, drone shows aren’t without risks either. They require an entirely clear airspace - any incursion by an aircraft or unapproved drone could be catastrophic. It’s absolutely necessary to have control of the surrounding airspace to prevent this from happening - and as these events become more common, operators will require a central hub from which they can reliably close, and monitor, the relevant airspace.


The only way to do this is with an uncrewed traffic management (UTM) system. High Lander’s Vega UTM enables drone operators to close airspaces for their own use, creating official no-fly-zones that are recognized by the relevant aviation authority, and enabling operators to maintain airspace awareness and prevent accidents from occurring.


For more information about the power of Vega UTM, get in touch for a demo.

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