A drone light display that was cancelled over the new year at Melbourne’s Docklands due to safety concerns has now been given the green light by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
The display, which will feature over 380 drones flying in choreographed formation, is now set to begin from this weekend.
The aerial light show, organised by UK-based drone art company Celestial, was initially planned to go ahead on New Year’s Eve, and showcase hundreds of drones flying in formation over Victoria Harbour, taking on the shape of animals, faces, words and more.
However, the show was cancelled by CASA in the days beforehand due to not meeting adequate safety standards, and therefore not receiving the necessary regulatory approval.
CASA said since then that it has worked closely with the chief remote pilot contracted by Celestial to “ensure safety risks were considered and mitigated”.
CASA Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems inspector Darren McGrath said public safety is the authority’s top priority when assessing and approving a drone display, especially those involving displays of this size.
“We conduct a number of checks to ensure the display complies with our safety regulations, including assessing the applicant’s risk assessments and dress rehearsal before the event,” McGrath said.
“We’ve been working closely with the chief remote pilot who oversees the entire operation, including the remote pilots who fly the drones, as well as the drone art company, to provide important information on when, where and how they can use the drones safely and within the regulations.”
Chief remote pilot from the Institute for Drone Technology Jake Andrew said it usually takes about three months to prepare and practice for the eight-minute show.
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“It takes a huge amount of work to ensure the display appears seamless on the night and all contingencies are carefully planned for and mitigated against,” he said.
“We use an animation system to choreograph the drones in the display and drone show software to ensure they don’t fly into each other, stay in formation throughout the display and land safely back on the ground.”
Meanwhile, Celestial CEO Tony Martin looks forward to the unveiling of the drone show above Melbourne skies.
According to Martin, the planned show tells a unique story and encompasses a “beautiful mix of First Nation imagery, contemporary poetry and a specially commissioned piece of music”.
“Every display we do is different and aims to engage the audience in new and exciting ways which means we’re always pushing the envelope with what we do. We’ve worked hard to create a story that combines an acknowledgment of the struggles we have all faced over this last year with a positive, optimistic outlook for the year ahead,” Martin said.
“Working with CASA ensures we know the limits of what we can and can’t do within the regulations to keep everyone safe.”
Last week, it was revealed that the Celestial drone show was cancelled over safety and regulatory concerns.
“For large displays such as this, we conduct a number of checks to ensure the display complies with our safety regulations, including assessing the applicant’s risk assessments,’’ a CASA spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately, this year’s New Year’s Eve drone light display in Melbourne did not meet the required standards.’’
Prior to the event, on 29 December, Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp announced that the planned display would no longer proceed, citing COVID-19-related impacts on freight, logistics and training.
Cr Capp specified last week that her previous comments regarding freight and logistic delays were correct and clarified that such delays impacted the drone pilots’ abilities to train, and thus impacted Celestial’s regulatory approval.
“We’re pleased that Celestial now has all the equipment they need here in Melbourne, and they’re working around the clock to deliver the spectacular mass drone swarm above Docklands – and we hope to make an announcement soon,” Cr Capp said.
Celestial says its drone light displays could soon surpass the world’s best firework displays for special events and new years’ celebrations. The Somerset-based company highlights that drones are cheaper, manoeuvrable, and “can be used again and again”.
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