Drone Light Shows: Companies, Costs, Laws, Problems, Benefits, 107.35 Waiver (2023)

Are you interested about drone light shows? In this article we will discuss the benefits, the limitations, the costs (including what influences higher prices), tips on finding a drone light show provider, and how to start a drone light show business. If you are interested in hiring me to help you obtain a drone light show waiver, contact me. I have one sucessful one under my belt so far and I’m ramping up services.

Table of Contents of Article

  • 1 Drone Light Show Benefits
  • 2 Drone Light Show Limitations
  • 3 Drone Light Show Costs
  • 4 How to Shop for a Drone Light Show Company
  • 5 Starting a Drone Light Show Business Considerations
  • 6 Drone Light Show Laws and Legal Issues
  • 7 Conclusion

Drone Light Show Benefits

Drone light shows are another tool in the belt of entertainers and advertisers. Drone light shows don’t replace firework shows, they enhance them, and provide fall back support due to unforeseen environmental or scheduling reasons. You can do a stand alone drone light show, firework AND drone light show simultaneously, or firework and then drone light show.

1. No Fire or Drought Issues

You don’t have to worry about fire/drought related issues. This is a real thing. Just see this NY Post- Fourth of July fireworks banned in some states over drought, extreme heat. You are planning an event and have all sorts of commitment. One super sweet solution is do BOTH. Do fireworks and/or drones if there are not problems. But if something does pop up, the drone light show is there to save the day night.

2. Animals Will Thank You.

The dogs (especially those little yappy ones owned by old ladies), horses, and all sorts of other animals hate explosions. PETA says, “Every Independence Day (and any time fireworks go off), animal shelters see a spike in lost animals who have fled the noise, and some are run over or killed in other ways. This past New Year’s Day, a dog jumped a fence in Green Cove Springs after hearing fireworks—she was found dead in a river days later.”

3. Babies, and Their Parents, Will Thank You.

Babies and toddlers in the neighborhood, and their parents, won’t have all of the stress. Yes. This is a thing. There are articles on this such as here and here. The family might actually attend the event knowing it won’t be loud. This could mean more revenue for the event. Think about it. A mom and dad with 3 kids is 5 mouths buying funnel cake, cotton candy, etc. and is most likely 3 or 4 tickets for admission. Dealing with scared kids, lugging around ear protection, fighting with kids to put on the ear protection when they are all hot and sweaty, etc. are all things that can be prevented with drone light shows.

4. More Effective Visual Storytelling

You are more flexible in doing designs. Fireworks have a limited basket of designs (smiley face, heart, etc.). Drones can do very complex shapes. Just see this one.

5. More Effective Audible Storytelling

You can effectively communicate the show, with music, better since the audience doesn’t have explosions going off drowning out the music.

6. Aerial Advertising

You can do aerial advertising at night!

You can do QR codes which then send people to a website….hello lead generation.

7. You Can Synchronize and Integrate Better With Things on the Ground

You can synchronize the drone lights show with other things. Christmas lights? Laynards? Giant LED Balls to throw into the crowd.Wristbands? Check out this sweet video of a Coldplay concerts with wristbands. Here is another one.

You can also integrate the lights with buildings on the ground. See this Disney one.

Now I’m waiting for someone to do King Kong on the Empire State Building for New Years. Booyah!!!!!

Drone Light Show Limitations

1. Weather

Drone light shows can get canceled due to weather.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Regulations say you must have 3 statute miles of visibility. You also cannot fly drones less than 500 feet below clouds or within 2,000 feet horizontally. Unfortunately, low clouds and fog can totally ruin this. The Federal Aviation Administration can grant waivers to fly in these low visibility areas or close to clouds under some rare circumstances. Talk to the drone light show operator company to see if they have these waivers or if they can obtain them.

Wind is also a consideration. These drones can only handle so much wind before they literally get blown away.

2. Altitude

The Federal Aviation Regulations also restrict the drone light shows to be limited to 400 feet above ground level. The FAA does grant waivers from this at times. This is important for the really large drone light shows or where you want to make the drone light show visible for a really really long distance. From an advertising perspective, the higher you go, the more potential eyes that can see the advertising. Talk to the drone light show operator company to see if they have these waivers or if they can obtain them.

3. Radio Frequency Interference

Drone light show drones use radio frequencies for command and control. A high radio frequency noise floor could prevent operations. Also, these drones monitor GPS signals from GPS constellations of satellites to determine position. If large buildings are nearby blocking or creating multipathing, the show might not be able to be done or require extra mitigations.

4. Restricted Ground Area

Drone light shows need a good-sized area on the ground from which to take off and to perform over. The show area must ALSO have a buffer zone for the protection of bystanders. The size of the area is influenced by the number of drones in the show and the maximum altitude of the show. You’ll have to contact the drone show company to tailor the show to the size of your area.

Another factor affecting the ground area needed is the geospatial accuracy of the drones. Most GPS devices we use have something like 50-150 feet of horizontal accuracy. Drone light shows need much greater accuracy to prevent the drones from bumping into each other. The drones may obtain this accuracy by monitoring multiple GPS frequencies (e.g. L1 and L2 signals), multiple satellite constellations (DOD, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, etc.), and by having a RTK ground station correcting for GPS errors

5. Airspace/Airports

Drone light shows can get approval to fly near airports, heliports, gliderports, and seaports and in certain types of airspace. These approvals do take time. They can also sometimes get denied due to difficult air traffic controllers. I’ve done many of these over the years and they can be VERY unpredictable. While I have obtained authorizations with as short as 24 hours of turnaround, I have had others denied after weeks and weeks of waiting. It’s best to start working with your drone light show provider as soon as possible to lock in the approval.

6. Time to Prepare

Drone light shows are regulated. Many locations do not need extra approvals. However, some do. The drone light show operator can obtain drone authorizations and waivers for these locations.

Additionally, the size of the location needed and the buffer zone are also influenced by the design and the geospatial precision of the drones. These things have to be figured out which takes time to tweak the show design and buffer zones to make sure everything works.

7. Magnetic Interference

This is rare but some drones have internal magnetic compasses that can be interfered with if the take-off area has too much metal in it. Think parking garages with metal rebar in the concrete, metal roofs, etc.

8. Battery Life

The drones can do something like 15-30 minutes per battery. You’ll have to adjust the show duration for the battery length. Influencing battery life is temperature. LIPO battery life decreases in the cold (like around Christmas and New Years). This might explain why your cold weather drone show is smaller in duration or the costs is creased because the drone show company has to charge more money for more batteries to be used. That being said, some clever operators choose to warm their batteries or keep them in environmentally controlled areas.

Drone Light Show Costs

1. Things Influencing Costs

  • Number of drones. Well duh. But it can create all sorts of logistical issues such as the battery recharging issue. The size of the show and the number of drones might be too big to stay under 400ft above ground level and might need regulatory approvals.
  • Show Duration and Battery Life. To do longer shows, you end have having to take a break long enough to allow for recharging and replacing in the drones or the operator will have to have double the batteries and hot swap them rapidly. This means more transport costs.
  • Battery Recharge Times. Longer charge times mean more batteries are needed or longer times recharging.
  • Temperature. Colder weather affects the duration of the batteries. Batteries can be environmentally controlled, but that might cost extra money.
  • Regulatory Approvals. These approvals take time. Sometimes outside specialists have to be brought in. Like me. That costs extra money.
  • Super Complex Designs. These shows have to be programmed so they look right and they function correctly. You can’t have drones crashing into each other. You also may need a certain number of drones to get a certain level of resolution of the image. For example, a QR code needs a minimum number of drones to work within a certain range. The greater the number of drones emitting light, the greater the resolution and the greater the chance of successful QR reading from a person’s cell phone.

2. Real World Cost Estimates

The cost of a drone show is based on a per-drone basis.

Verge Aero says,

The cost of a show is priced on a per drone basis ranging between $350 and $700 per drone, depending on a variety of factors such as show complexity, location, and planning timeline. Drone light displays for smaller events can be successfully flown with as few as 50 drones, resulting in a cost of $250 at $500 per drone. By comparison, an Intel® Drone Light Show using 300 of Intel’s Premium Drones costs $199,000 ($666 per premium drone). Intel’s classic drone package is less expensive, but does not perform as well as current technology like the Verge Aero X1 light show drone or the Intel Premium Drone.

Preston Ward of Sky Elements said in a webinar of $350-500 a drone.

3. How many drones do you really need? I want to keep costs low.

Verge Aero provides insight,

100 to 150 drones is usually the minimum number of drones required for a show. Content drives the number of drones required. Because each drone is a pixel, complex shapes and long words need more drones than simple shapes and short words, for example. Successful shows have been performed with as few as 50 drones in more intimate settings while world records have been set with thousands of drones. For complex 3D animations Verge recommends a minimum number of 300 drones.

How to Shop for a Drone Light Show Company

As you shop for a drone light show, PLEASE consider these important points. I have created these points as questions for you to ask to potential drone light show companies. Below each question are extremely important reasons as to why you should ask these questions and what you should be looking for in the drone light shows company’s answer…or non-answer.

Question 1. Where is your drone light show waiver approval? Can I see all of your regulatory approvals?

Because You Want To Verify They Can Fly. They better be able to produce documentation. You should go to the FAA Part 107 Waivers Granted directory and search for it. In the top right, search by the company name. You can find all of the light show waivers by searching “107.35” and it should display all of the waiver holders. Note that not all 107.35 waiver holders are drone light show companies. I have multiple clients on there that do swarm crop dusting with drones. If they just send you a link that shows a faa.gov URL, they are on the ball and know what they are doing. Read through their approval to see if they really can do what they say they can do. If they do not show up, that’s a big red flag. I have in extremely rare instances not seen certain waiver approvals not show up. You should contact your local FAA Flight Standards District Office and ask them to verify. They can make some calls and clear things up or…..start investigating. Why is this important to verify on the FAA’s directory? Not everyone advertising drone light shows has been approved. SeaWorld failed to check for this and lost over $45,000+. A criminal prosecution followed from the Department of Justice. Here are the relevant portions of the indictment:

“Sea World requested FAA waivers from [Defendant] to determine if the show could legally be held. On or about May 17,2018, [Defendant] emailed . . . a SeaWorld representative two documents purporting to be FAA waivers. FAA records reveal that these waivers were fraudulent and had been altered from valid waivers that had since expired. SeaWorld relied upon the waivers as being valid.”

Because You Do Not Want to Waste Time and Money. Getting mixed up with an illegal operator can cost you time and money. I’m not talking about you losing money from the drone light show company but you having to spend time and money responding to a FAA subpoena associated with their investigation into that company. I’m just going to copy-paste the language from the Skypan petition for summary of enforcement of subpoena filed by the Department of Justice:

Skypan is a private, for-profit photography company . . . that specializes in aerial photography. . . . ASI John Wilkens, Farmingdale FSDO, investigated the allegation that Skypan had operated an unmanned aerial aircraft in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. On or about September 19, 2012, ASI John Wilkens contacted Mr. Richard Dubrow, employee of Macklowe Properties, regarding the circumstances surrounding their contract with Skypan for aerial photography services. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that Macklowe Properties did contract with Skypan for commercial aerial photography of a development project at 432 Park Avenue, New York, NY. . . . On December 12, 2012, the FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan.”

Obviously after you received this subpoena you would consult a lawyer and pay them which means $$$ out of your pocket to figure out what you need to do. You and your employees have to take time away from making money to try and comply with the subpoena. It’s like doing an in-depth tax return where you are throwing under the bus the illegal operator and trying to do damage control with some expensive attorney looking things over.

Because You Do Not Want to Look Foolish. If you or your company get mixed up into all of this, you might have to explain to your spouse, customers, vendors, co-workers, employees, and the boss what’s going on. Yikes. That’s stressful. Don’t believe this can happen? Here ya go. The petition filed by the DOJ attached a statement from a FAA inspector which gives you an idea of the stress created by the investigation:

“A written request to furnish documents to aid the investigation was made to Macklowe Properties on September 26, 2012. There was no response to the written request. A follow-up telephone [conversation] with Mr. Dubrow took place on October 12, 2012 to check on the status of the document request. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that his company received the request and he passed the letter along to his boss. Mr. Dubrow said they will email the status of the written request. On October 19, 2012 Macklowe properties General Counsel forwarded a letter requesting a subpoena detailing the information that they were requesting. A subpoena was issued as requested.”

Hiring illegal operators can tarnish your name, brand, and reputation. You get to be known as “that guy.” Detecting the true damage of being “that guy” is hard because people mentally choose to make themselves distant/unavailable/inaccessible. Deals get put together with other people without you ever knowing. Proverbs 22:1 provides clarity, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

Question 2. Are all of your drone light show pilots certificated?

This is a good one to ask. Why? 49 USC 46306(b) says,

“[A] person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, if the person— . . . (8) knowingly and willfully employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity[.]”

If they lied to you, you at least have it in an email. :) For many, that’s where they will stop digging.

If you really really want to confirm they have licensed pilots, you should contact your local FAA Flight Standards District Office and ask them to verify. You can also file a pilots records request and have the pilots all sign the documents. It’s like an aviation background check. The airlines and sophisticated aircraft operators do this ALL of the time when hiring pilots. The key is they get the verification from a 3rd party (the FAA).This is how you can mitigate the photoshopping issue.

When the pilots show up to do the show, ask to see their remote pilot certificates and photo ID to see if the face and names all match up. Unfortunately, SeaWorld didn’t do this. The indictment said:

“SeaWorld requested that [Defendant] provide the names and identifications of the pilots who [Defendant] would employ for the drone show. SeaWorld needed to ensure that [Defendant] was able to employ certified pilots to conduct the drone show. In response to this request, on or about May 17, 2018, [Defendant] emailed (using the email address of [Defendant] ) pictures of the FAA Remote Pilot Certificates of the two pilots (Pilot #1 and Pilot #2). [Defendant] false claimed these pilots had agreed to pilot the drones for drone show. The Remote Pilot Certificates for the two pilots contained personal identifying information of those pilots. In truth, neither drone pilot had agreed to pilot drones for the SeaWorld done show nor provide pilot services for [Defendant] . The pilots did not agree or consent to [Defendant] sending their Remote Pilot Certificates and personal information to SeaWorld.”

If the pilots don’t want to provide, I would contact your local law enforcement and tell them you wanted to confirm they are a remote pilot but they aren’t confirming. 14 CFR 107.7(a) says,

“A remote pilot in command, owner, or person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system must – . . . (2)Present his or her remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating and identification that contains the information listed at § 107.67(b)(1) through (3) for inspection upon a request from – . . . (iii) Any Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer[.]” (Emphasis mine).

Question 3. Why is your drone light show performance safe? What steps have you taken?

They better say buffer zones somewhere. Also, have them explain to you how the buffer zones were created. Why is this important? Because drones can go out of control and hit spectators. Don’t believe me? The Nourmand v. Great Lakes Drone Company LLC provides insight. This case was interesting. The Plaintiff’s attorney didn’t know drone law. The Great Lakes Drone Company had a drone light show approval but the Plaintiff’s attorney waxxed on in the complaint like the did not. Regardless, if an accident, an ignorant personal injury attorney could allege something about you similar to what is below. DO NOT LET THIS CASE SCARE YOU INTO NOT DOING A DRONE LIGHT SHOW. It just shows you need to put some effort into making sure the buffer zones and protections are sufficient to PREVENT accidents. In this case, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas hired Great Lakes Drone Company to do a drone light show. An injury resulted. Great Lakes Drone Company AND also Caesar’s Palace were both sued. Here is what the complaint alleges:

“Drones were being used as entertainment to provide a light show display at the pool area of the Caesars Palace to celebrate the 4th of July. . . . At approximately 9:10 p.m. the Subject Drones began flying near and around the patrons and other persons attending the Caesars Palace Fireworks Viewing Party. . . . [O]ne or more of the Subject Drones was operated in a manner that caused it to collide with patrons and other guests, including Plaintiffs, attending the Caesars Palace Fireworks Viewing Party . . . . As a direct result of Subject Drones unsafe operation Plaintiffs were struck by the Subject Drones causing severe and permanent physical and mental injuries.”

The big point here you need to know is there needs to be buffer zones between spectators and the drones. Sometimes these drones have mechanical issues and go goofy. It happens. That is why competent drone companies build into their operations buffer zones. If you are shopping for a drone light show company, they should clearly articulate to you why their buffer zone is a sufficient distance away. The Nourmand v. Great Lakes Drone Company LLC complaint further alleged:

“43. Caesars failed to exercise due care to preventing the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in areas near or around patrons or other guests

44. Caesars failed to exercise due care by allowing the errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles on its premises.

45. Due to the actions and inactions of Caesars, it was reasonably foreseeable that Plaintiffs could and would be injured by the errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles on its premises near or around patrons and other persons.

46. Due to the actions and inactions of Caesars, it was reasonably foreseeable that errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles would occur;

47. At all times material hereto Caesars owed a duty of reasonable care in the ownership, promotion, operation, oversight, management, security of, safety services for, maintenance and control of the subject property, including in the pool area, and to otherwise ensure through the use of due care that persons on its property are not injured due to Caesars negligent, wanton, or reckless actions and inaction

48. At all times material hereto, Caesars breached it duties of care and were negligent, wanton and reckless. Caesars. . . failed to ensure unmanned aerial vehicles were operated in a manner safe for patrons or other guests.”

Question 4. Do you have insurance? Can you provide a certificate of insurance?

I wouldn’t even hire a drone light show business if they didn’t have insurance. Obtain a certificate of insurance. Call up the insurance carrier and verify the policy. This is important as insurance policies can be photoshopped. You guessed it. It happened in that SeaWorld case:

“SeaWorld requested that [Defendant] provide a valid insurance certificate. On or about May 18, 2018, [Defendant] emailed (using the email address of [Defendant]) a document purporting to be a certificate of liability insurance from HISCOX Insurance Company, Inc. (“HISCOX”) to a SeaWorld representative. HISCOX is an authorized insurer in California.The certificate of liability insurance send to SeaWorid was fraudulent, invalid and had been altered in several respects. At the time ONEAL sent the certificate of liability insurance, [Defendant] did not have a valid commercial liability policy with HISCOX. SeaWorld relied upon the certificate of liability insurance being truthful in deciding whether to contract and pay a deposit to [Defendant] for the drone show.”

You need to also make sure it’s aviation insurance. Most insurance products on the mark do NOT cover aviation-related claims. See my drone insurance article. If you are a big enough company, you can also ask to be additionally insured on their aviation policy. There are other things we can do that are beyond the scope of this article to minimize your risk of liability if you are hiring a drone light show company. If you need help doing background checks and due diligence on a company, contact me.

Starting a Drone Light Show Business Considerations

Drone Light Show Software and Manufacturers

There are different companies that make software and/or associated drones. Here is a list:

Logistical Issues (Why Batteries Are SUPER ANNOYING).

While everyone thinks of packing up and transporting the drones, I don’t care about that too much. The only exception is if the drones and their software are export controlled under ITAR.

The biggest issue I have seen is batteries. You have to purchase enough (to include some extra spares), store them, transport them, and recharge them in the field.

How are you storing LIPO batteries and charging them? Just watch this video of a LIPO battery catching on fire inside a building. You might want to store and charge the batteries in a special location and have them all separated sufficiently in distance to prevent a domino situation. Add enough fire extinguishers nearby. Make them part of the gear. They follow the batteries to the drone light show.

Keep in mind that LIPO batteries are considered hazardous materials and there are restrictions on transporting them on aircraft.

When you are in the field, how are recharging the drones? You are going to have to do multiple show rehearsals to make sure the design looks good, all the communications and radio frequencies work, etc. If you have a 500 drone light show, you might have 510 batteries to charge 4-6 times. That’s 2010-3010 batteries to charge. If each battery takes 30 minutes, that’s like 60,300 to 90,300 minutes of charging.

This means you need to figure out if you have enough portable generators to provide that amount of power and if there are enough plugs at the location that can handle the amperage you are drawing. SUPER IMPORTANT to calculate the electrical load for the size of electrical infrastructure you have access to. For example, consider if you rented an Air BnB. The electrical code most likely required the house to have something like a max of 15 amps on the circuit. Causing too much amperage draw can result in outlet melting or a fire. A circuit breaker may not work or may work only at a higher amount of draw than what the outlet is rated for.

You might need a dedicated guy just doing battery management so you don’t burn stuff down.

Drone Light Show Economics

Batteries. Batteries have so many cycles on them before you should replace them. You need to figure this out from the manufacturer. This should go into determining to price. For example, if the battery costs 50 bucks and can do 100 cycles, that is $0.50 a cycle per battery. You can do this in Excel to do rough pricing. Typically you need 3 rehearsal flights and 1 main show flight. This means a 50 drone show has at least 200 battery cycles which costs at least $100 for the batteries for that show. As you do your cycles you should be logging them. You now see why I say there should be a battery management guy. After a 100 cycles, you could retire them or use the batteries for the rehearsals and the newer batteries for the main show. You might want to make arrangements with other drone shows at a certain distance to allow some type of mutual assistance if a big show gets contracted.

Regulatory Approvals. Remote identification will be required for all drone light show operators starting in September 2023. I suspect most drone light show drones won’t be compliant which means the operator will need a remote ID authorization or exemption to comply. If you are interested in this, contact me. You might also want to amend your original drone light show waiver to increase the number of drones, decrease the number of visual observers, or to add more aircraft make and models. Do you want to fly over 400ft AGL for bigger shows? Do you want to transport fireworks or smoke grenades on the drones? Do you need to fly over people to get some footage? These are all things you might want to consider to set your business apart from the other drone light show providers out there.

Drone Light Show Laws and Legal Issues

1. Drone Light Show Waiver from the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR 107.29 and 107.35)

The FARs prohibit people operating under Part 107 from operating more than 1 drone at a time. See 14 CFR 107.35. The regulations also prohibit people from flying drones at night without anti-collisions lights sufficiently flashing. That does not work out so well when you need to have the drones turned off and on at different times to do your show. See 14 CFR 107.29. Thankfully you can obtain a drone light show waiver from these regulations. I have successfully done many waivers for night, swarming, and even a drone light show. If you need help with obtaining a drone light show waiver, contact me. I have successfully obtained drone light show waivers for clients.

A drone light show waiver can take around 41-180 calendar days to obtain. (The fastest I ever did one for a client was 41 calendar days). A waiver can last for around 2-4 years.

Here are the limitations/characteristics of a drone light show waiver I would attempt to help you obtain:

  • Up to 500 drones.
  • Nationwide approval. All 50 states.
  • Class B, C, D, and E airspace with certain restrictions and Class G near airports, seaports, heliports, and gliderports with certain restrictions.
  • 0-400 feet above ground level.
  • You MUST do the show over a sterile restricted access area.
  • You can only fly the aircraft make/model we apply for.
  • The show lighting must be done according to the mitigations in the manual.
  • 1 remote pilot with multiple visual observers. You’ll also most likely need people for restricting access to the area.
  • Must file a notification to FSDO 24 hours before and file a NOTAM 72 hours before.

Aircraft/Ground Station Technical Requirements:

  • Drones must have redundant flight control and transmission systems.
  • Ground control station must display telemetry of the position, attitude, altitude, and direction of flight of each sUA.
  • The software must have a two layer geofence.
  • Ground controls station must audibly and visually notify remote pilot of sUA malfunction.

As a start-up, I totally get it that you may want to attempt things yourself.

I created a huge guide to Part 107 waivers and in this article, I have links to multiple sample waiver applications the FAA provided you could use to attempt the drone light show waiver yourself.

Check out my Part 107 waivers guide here.

While you can attempt things yourself, part of my drone light show waiver services includes valuable information based on my experience as a practicing aviation attorney who has seen all sorts of disasters regarding drone light shows. My services include:

  • Provisions to include in drone light show contracts.
  • Dealing with radio frequency jamming equipment.
  • Strategies regarding obtaining a remote ID COA (so you don’t have to retrofit your entire fleet) as well as also providing you added flexibility in operations most drone light show operators might not be aware of.
  • Valuable news articles to use for training.
  • Aircraft testing strategies.

Email me to find out my drone light show waiver services.

2. Part 89 Remote ID Requirement Authorization or Exemption

99% of drone light shows are going to have 14 CFR Part 89 apply to them. The compliance deadline for operators is September 16, 2023. See 14 CFR 89.105. This presents a big issue as it is PER aircraft. Most aircraft were not designed for remote ID and while the regulations do allow for retrofitting of aircraft with a broadcast module this still presents the following problems: (1) there may not be a broadcast module for the specific aircraft, (2) this might be extremely burdensome in time and cost to retrofit hundreds of drones with almost no extra benefit regarding security (which was the chief reason behind remote ID’s passage), (3) it will lead to decreased flight times, and (4) it might also cause a whole host of safety issues regarding command and control over the radio frequencies.

The solution is to obtain a certificate of authorization or granted exemption to not have to have all of the drones broadcast.

Assuming the cost to retrofit each drone with a broadcast module was $100 and it took roughly $15 in time per aircraft, a 100 drone light show has a $11,500 cost and a 500-drone show a $57,500 cost. You can see the cost of obtaining a certificate of authorization or exemption makes financial sense for aircraft that cannot be cheaply retrofitted.

3. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)

The ITAR regulates all sorts of things including large long range drones and also drone swarming technology. The ITAR says,

“Category VIII—Aircraft and Related Articles* * * * *(h) * * *(12) Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight control systems and vehicle management systems with swarming capability (i.e. UAVs that operate autonomously (without human input) to interact with each other to avoid collisions, fly in formations, and are capable of adapting in real-time to changes in operational/threat environment, or, if weaponized, coordinate targeting) (MT if for an aircraft, excluding manned aircraft, or missile that has a “range” equal to or greater than 300 km);”

You need to be careful not to violate the ITAR as severe criminal and civil penalties can result.

The important reason I bring the ITAR up is because you want to find software that is NOT ITAR controlled. One way this can be done is you or the software developer or aircraft manufacturer can obtain a commodity jurisdiction determination from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. This determines if the software IS controlled or not. These are extremely beneficial for customers when shopping for equipment and software. When shopping, ask if the manufacturer/software company has obtained a commodity jurisdiction determination for their product.

4. HAZMAT on Aircraft

Some light shows integrate fireworks onto the drones. See this video.

Remember when you go to the airport and they have those big signs regarding don’t carry knives, guns, or….fireworks onto aircraft……yah. Fireworks on aircraft might trigger all sorts of extra regulatory approvals since you are putting hazardous explosive material on aircraft.

5. Lasers

If you want a laser light show, there are all sorts of extra approvals here. There are federal and state laws applicable to this area. Contact me if you want to explore this more.


So why did I write all of this? So you can either (1) hire me to obtain a drone light show waiver for you, (2) hire me to obtain authorization or exemption from the Part 89 remote ID requirements from your drone light show, or (3) hire me to check out a potential drone light show company you want to hire. :) Drone law is all that I do.

You can contact me here.

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