Fireworks could fizzle out as drones rise in popularity for new year
Use of the devices has taken off in recent years, with apparent benefits including less distress to animals
As new year approaches, crowds around the world may be expecting whizzes and bangs to light up the sky. But the appeal of fireworks could fizzle out with the growing use of drones for light shows.
One notable example was the opening ceremony of this year’s Tokyo Olympics, while the Over the Top NYE event at Reunion Tower in Dallas is among those planning to combine fireworks and drones to welcome 2022.
They are also being embraced at a local level: more than 1,000 people watched a drone display at Mercia Marina in Derbyshire to celebrate Bonfire Night this year.
Ollie Howitt, the creative coordinator at SkyMagic, which used a fleet of 300 drones to create a display for the mayor of London’s new year celebration last year, said demand had increased substantially, something the pandemic has helped accelerate. She added that drones were increasingly able to fly in greater density and for longer.
“We do think it’s going to be something that’s ever evolving, as opposed to it being a short-lived sort of fad that people have suddenly got interested in,” she said.
Robert Neff, a partner and general manager at Mercia Marina, also believes drone displays will become more common. “There’s a big movement against fireworks,” he said.
Neff said the decision to use a drone display at the marina was down to a number of factors, including the impact of fireworks on animals – from wildlife and waterfowl to the cats and dogs of boat owners.
“They’ve often commented on how much distress is caused to their pets by the fireworks,” he said.
Howitt said there were benefits to drones: “They’re no emission, they’re reusable, there’s no fallout or any debris or that kind of thing. So in that sense they are a very good, sustainable option.”
But not everyone agrees. A spokesperson from the British Fireworks Association said drones could also pose environmental problems.
“Suggestions are that drones have less of an impact on the environment, but we have grave concerns about electrical demand and use of lithium batteries which are known not to be all that ‘green’,” they said.
“Firework use impact on the environment has been shown to be minor and very short-lived and recent studies have suggested that there is likely to be more pollution from a couple of cars driving to an event than caused by fireworks at an event.”
An RSPCA spokesperson said that while drones were a possible idea to try to reduce the impact of displays on animals, there were downsides.
“Drones are not without their own negative issues such as spooking horses and livestock or colliding with birds, and can cause disturbance to animals and members of the public. It’s therefore important for their effects to be fully considered and measures taken to minimise the chance of accidents,” they said.
And there are logistical issues with drone light displays, known as “drone swarms”, needing to receive specific safety approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Some suggest the use of fireworks and drones are not mutually exclusive. The crackle and bangs of pyrotechnics create a sound sensation that is hard to replace.
“We find fireworks work really well in tandem with drones. But we don’t really see it as a one replacing the other at all. We sort of feel as if it’s just another tool in the chest for how you sort of animate the sky and what you want to do with the show that you’re putting on,” said Howitt, noting that while fireworks give a loud, emotive, big performance, drones offer the chance to tell stories in the sky by using a series of images.
But, as Neff noted, using drones to avoid the potential problems from fireworks involves people ditching the latter.
“What people point out is why do you bother avoiding it if five miles or two miles down the road they’re having a big firework display,” said Neff. “It makes a bit of a mockery of it.”
But he is not certain he would opt for drones again. “I don’t know,” he said, adding people were expecting rather more from the display.
“They expected more drones, more lights, more performance. People always want more. And I think the noise is part of the big experience of it all,” he said.