Drone Light Shows:  Safer and More Dazzling Than Fireworks?

July 4th fireworks displays are dazzling and exciting, especially for kids, but they can be dangerous when not properly supervised.  A report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released last month found that injuries due to mishandled fireworks climbed 25% between 2006 and 2021.  In addition, wildland fires and property damage caused by burning remnants of fireworks are a growing risk.  In 2018 alone. an estimated 19,500 fires due to fireworks were reported to local U.S. fire departments.  And just last month, in California, 9 of the state’s 30 wildland blazes – a whopping 30% – were traced to firework displays.  As summers grow drier and hotter, a growing number of localities are looking for alternatives to their annual July 4 fireworks events.

Some are finding them in drone “light shows.”  Last month in Colorado, several towns canceled their annual July 4 fireworks celebrations in favor of elaborate synchronized movements of drones.  Each show was relatively short, about 12 minutes, but the drones, as many as 500 in one show, put on impressive displays of aerial prowess,  in some cases mimicking fireworks explosions.  Some drone shows also featured a representation of the Statue of Liberty and other Independence Day emblems and symbols.  Loudspeakers from the drones also blasted theme music.  But there were no loud noise eruptions, smoke or debris.

A Denver-based company, Hire UAV Pro, organized the drone shows, and news of its activities has already promoted a flurry of drone bookings for next year’s Independence Day event, the company says.  Drone light shows appear to be catching on elsewhere.  Cities in Ohio, Texas and California also sponsored their own July 4th events.  Most are locales where fireworks displays have previously set off wildland fires that caused dozens of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage.  So far, the response from local citizens has been overwhelmingly positive.

Drone shows are not only safer than fireworks displays, they’re  also much cleaner, their supporters say.  They leave behind no debris so there is less clean-up involved.  And because high-decibel explosions are eliminated, they are less likely to scare animals or people, especially elders who often avoid loud fireworks displays.  The main downside of the shows may be their expense.  A typical local fireworks event may cost as little as $2,000.  However, companies like Hire UAV Pro charge a hefty $25,000 to put on an elaborate drone light show.  Without additional funding, the added expenses may exceed the entertainment budgets of most small towns.

Of course, July 4th isn’t the only possible venue for a drone light show.  Last May, Vivid 2022, an event billed as the “largest drone light show in the entire Southern hemisphere,” wowed the residents of Sydney, Australia.  Hundreds of drones equipped with lights depicted the spaceship from the “Star Trek” series flying over the city’s harbor.  Other depicted images included Chase, the German shepherd featured in the popular UK series PAW Control. The display was broadcast on YouTube and seen by millions of viewers across the globe.

Despite their prodigious expense, drone light shows are likely the wave of the future, marketers say.   In 2020, the drone light show market was valued at just USD $2.6 billion in 2020, slightly less than the global fireworks market.  But with a compound annual growth rate of 21%, the drone light show market is projected to reach USD $12.3 billion by 2028, about four times the size of the global fireworks market by that same year.

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