Fourth of July celebrations: Out with the fireworks, in with the drones

Major US cities are making the swap from environmentally hazardous fireworks to remote controlled drones.
Sejal Sharma
Representational picture.
Representational picture.


Fireworks displays are synonymous with July 4 celebrations in the US. But due to air quality concerns and wildfires, many cities in the country are replacing traditional fireworks with drone shows to mitigate environmental issues.

The country witnessed a summer already plagued by some of the worst air pollution in US history. This was witnessed recently in New York, where the sky was covered in an orange haze due to the wildfires emerging from Canada. The air quality in the East Coast and Midwest plummeted to hazardous levels.

So, it makes sense for major cities like Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Boulder to make the switch to drones instead. Drone light shows are produced by groups of drones that are lit, coordinated, and choreographed to produce a variety of aerial formations. 

Almost any image can be replicated in the sky using computer software, which converts images into flight commands and sends them to drones.

Fireworks vs drones

One of the major drawbacks of replacing fireworks with drones is that the latter only has visual effects and not the booming sounds of the former.

Chris Hopkins, who runs both Celebration Fireworks and Star Flight Drone Shows, said in an interview with the New York Times, “Drones are much more sophisticated. They just don’t have the same visceral reaction.”

Another drawback is that drones are expensive. At $1,500 per drone and each show requiring approximately 75 of these flying machines, the industry has shied away from making the switch. There are other hindrances like getting a clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the cost of hiring skilled people to carry out the job.

Minneapolis opted for a laser light show on the eve of Independence Day, while Salt Lake City is going to rely on a drone show on July 4.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced on June 27 the switch to drones in a bid to combat the city’s high fire danger.

“As temperatures rise and fire danger increases, we must be conscientious of both our air quality and the potential for wildfires,” said Mendenhall. “The summer holiday shows are a mainstay for Salt Lakers and we’re excited about adapting to new technology which will provide a safe alternative for our residents and visitors.”

Watch below as Salt Lake City kicked off July 4 celebrations in a drone show.

Supply chain snarls

Post the pandemic, the drone light show market met with a negative impact. With China being a major supplier of electronic goods, the event industry took a major hit with pricing changes, output losses, and supply disruptions. Even then, as per Allied Market Research, the global drone light market, which was valued at $1.3 billion in 2021, is projected to grow to $2.2 billion by 2031.

But not everyone is jumping onto the drone show bandwagon. The New York Times reported Galveston, Texas, is reverting to fireworks after using drones in 2022.

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