Fireworks or Drone Light Shows

Steps for preparing a drone light show
Fireworks alternatives sought by local councils after ‘black summer’ bushfire backlash
ABC Mid North Coast By Kerrin Thomas
Posted 4 Mar 2020, 1:42pm
Key points:
  • This past new year, MidCoast Council found the community response to fireworks was mixed, with some “quite upset” and some “offended”
  • Councillors supported a motion at a recent meeting to undertake research into alternatives to the pyrotechnic displays
  • A drone hire company said “drone light shows” are an environmentally friendly alternative and are “just something new”
Alternatives to fireworks for New Year’s Eve celebrations are being considered in some local government areas in New South Wales, following backlash to the New Year’s displays.
One area that will undertake research into the alternatives to a fireworks display is the MidCoast Council on the NSW mid-north coast.
This summer, 256 homes and outbuildings were lost to bushfires in the council area, and a further 57 homes and 118 outbuildings were damaged.
The council decided to go ahead with its planned fireworks displays at Forster and Taree.
“Keeping with our New Year’s Eve tradition is an important and very positive part of our communities getting back to normality,” Mayor David West said at the time.
Councillors supported a motion at a recent meeting for council staff to “undertake research to ascertain details of any options of alternatives to Council’s New Year’s Eve fireworks including but not limited to laser or drone shows”.
“I’m motivated to do this because of community members … who after bushfires and pre-New Year, were questioning the value of the fireworks from an environmental perspective, a social perspective, even that it scares their dogs,” said Kathryn Bell, the councillor behind the motion.
“Whatever the different reasons, I do believe that we should at least be looking at options to the fireworks.”
Ms Bell said the response to fireworks from the community was mixed.
“People were quite upset, some were offended … and we have to respect that as well in relation to having fireworks after a terrible fire season, horrible fire season.”
Sydney also weighs up alternatives
City of Sydney councillor Craig Chung is also asking his council to consider other options for the Sydney display — one of the first each New Year.
His motion asks for council to “investigate environmentally-sustainable and non-explosive alternatives, such as drone shows”.
“People were calling for a change and I looked at this and I thought, well, why are we exploding fireworks in the sky when there are plenty of other alternatives to consider?” he said.
“I looked at best practice around the world and it seems to me that there are a number of ways in which people are doing their aerial displays.”
He said the alternatives could be used in conjunction with fireworks to make a hybrid display.
Councillor Chung’s Notice of Motion was deferred from a meeting earlier this year to one this month.
What are the options?
Drone light shows are one alternative being considered.
Drone light shows have been held overseas but Nick Smith, the director and co-founder of Drones for Hire, said he knows of only two such shows have been held in Australia to date.
He said the shows typically use a swarm of between 50 and 500 drones and are set to music.
“All the drones are pre-programmed using special software and that controls how far apart the drones have to stay as they’re moving around in the sky forming different shapes and transitioning between shapes,” he said.
“There’s a fair bit of meticulous software programming work involved in designing a show.
“Over 2,000 drones is the current world record but most shows would be between 50 and 500.”
Mr Smith said there are many benefits.
“They’re generally regarded as, I guess, a more environmentally friendly alternative to current forms of large outdoor entertainment shows and they’re also just something new,” he said.
“People are always looking for something new … everybody’s always looking for an edge and something new to do to entertain their audience.”
He said he has been approached by several councils.
“The communities have provided feedback that they are looking for alternatives to the fireworks, more environmentally friendly alternatives, for things like Australia Day celebrations, New Year’s Eve and major council events happening throughout the year,” he said.
Fireworks industry not expecting a big shift
The president of the Pyrotechnics Industry Association of Australia, Peter McGill, said he does not think there will be a big move away from fireworks.
“They can go and have a look at the options, I think it’s pretty predictable what the outcome will be,” he said.
“They’ll discover fireworks is actually the best way.
“Drones don’t cut it … they can only be seen at close range.
“Fireworks … can be seen for a long way.”
Mr McGill said the emissions from fireworks are minimal.
“The emissions levels coming out of fireworks for [the Taree and Forster] shows, if everyone got out on Sunday with their lawnmower that’d be doing more damage than the fireworks.”
Clive Featherby, the president of the Australasian Pyrotechnics Association, said he uses lasers and water screens in his business, but it can be more expensive and not as impressive as fireworks.
“In the end it’s about celebrating and trying to find what’s most cost-effective that still has the same impact, so it comes back down to the event organizers as well,” he said.
“Just on their own, unfortunately the lasers — and I own lasers — they just don’t cut it on their own.”
Mr Featherby said there are also some types of fireworks that have less of an impact on the environment.
“There’s a whole big range of what they call close-proximity fireworks nowadays,” he said.
“They’re very spectacular but [they make] a lot less noise, no debris, no smoke. So they’re a lot more environmentally friendly.”

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