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How much does a drone light show cost?

Want to write “Marry Me” in the air in front of the person you’re proposing to? What about showering the sky with shapes of stars over a sporting event or show? Or maybe forming your company’s logo overhead for a corporate event? You’ve got an idea — and now you need to know how much that drone light show costs.

Hundreds of tiny, lit-up drones are capable of printing your idea in the sky. Companies that can make it happen for you range from big players to tiny drone startups — there to offer drone light shows to add some pizazz to your party. So how much does a drone light show cost?

Let’s just say, your proposal plans are going to turn out to be pretty spendy. Intel, which at once point offered drone light shows (though has since sold their system to a company called Nova Sky Stories) had posted their drone light show cost sheet online in 2020 — and prices start at a hair under six figures for a single show.

Here were the base prices for Intel’s drone light shows according to their official site as of 2020, which included on-site operations, animations, rehearsals, aviation permits, and site survey:

Number of drones:200300500500+
Show includes:Solid, 2D shapes and imageryMore volumetric, 3D shapes and animationsHigher resolution imagery, more dimension, detail, and more complex animations and scenesThe most premium experience
Starting Price:$99,000$199,000$299,000Contact Intel for a custom quote

Of course, these were just base costs, and didn’t necessarily include costs associate with the shipment of drones and Intel operations team travel. Plus, you’re still on the hook for expenses related to onsite infrastructure, which could mean fences to block off areas below where the drones are flying, seating and more (Intel requires a minimum site space of 25m x 45m with secured fencing around the launch area, plus 340m x 300m of minimum airspace).

Intel says they typically recommend 2-3 months of lead time to plan their shows, which ultimately last about five minutes.

Intel’s drone light shows are primarily used for major, flashy events like concerts and the biggest conferences.

Intel drone light show cost
A screenshot from Intel’s website outlines base drone light show costs.

Related read: Watch the entire stream of Thursday’s Girls Who Drone event featuring Intel and the drone light show team

Examples of real life, Intel drone light shows

250 drones flew over the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of the massive CES tech conference in 2018. A massive 1,218 drones flew over PyeongChang, South Korea for the Olympic Winter Games 2018 Opening Ceremony. And in what might be the largest drone light show of all time, 2,018 drones flew over Intel’s own campus to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.

Prior to that, hundreds of Intel drones flew in an FAA-approved, Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Lady Gaga, as nighttime entertainment at  Coachella and for a recurring show during the 2016 holiday season at Walt Disney World. And recently, drones flew in the shape of Baby Yoda for a Disney+ promotion.

Intel drones fly in the shape of an astronaut above the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to honor the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Other major drone light show companies to know

Intel was among the first of the major names to offer drone light shows — and its contributions are enormous for setting the stage of drone light show companies we have today.

These days, the other largest company in the drone light show space is Chinese drone maker (and light show hoster) Ehang. Ehang has its hands in all aspects of drones from passenger drones to consumer drones, has also toyed with the drone light show game — trying to compete with Intel regularly for breaking records on largest drone light shows.

Disney has had success running its own in-house drone shows, including a 2022 show at Disneyland Paris to celebrate its 30th anniversary, titled Disney D-light.  Disney also briefly used drones at its Walt Disney World Resort in Florida during the 2016 holiday season to put on a nighttime spectacular.

In Asia, theres SKYMAGIC, which is a Singapore-based drone light show company. SKYMAGIC is the team behind other major productions including London’s 2022 New Year’s Eve Show, a Pokemon drone show for Pikachu Weekend, and a public show to celebrate the Venice Biennale.

What companies run drone light shows in the U.S.?

There are only a small handful of companies approved in the U.S. for drone light shows that travel. They include:

  • Great Lakes Drone Company (its light show arm operates as Starlight Aerial Productions) is based in Michigan, Starlight Aerial Productions, and is one of the smaller U.S. drone light show companies. It uses a in-house system has been specially developed to direct assembly drone flight formations indoors and outdoor. It has put on shows for events including the Kentucky Derby Festival and the Burlington, Vermont Independence Day celebration.
  • Firefly is based in Detroit, Michigan and puts on smaller-scale, simpler shows as opposed to multi-layered ones from competitors like Nova Sky Stories. What’s interesting about Firefly is they won’t just put on the show for you, but they’ll even sell you what you need to put on a drone light show yourself.
  • Nova Sky Stories is one of the biggest players in the space today — perhaps unsurprising since it spun out from the now-defunct Intel drone light show team. Based in Boulder, Colorado, it has offices across the U.S. and Europe.
  • Sky Elements Drones is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and is one of the leaders for large-scale, U.S. drone light shows. Its portfolio includes the Los Angeles Dodgers drone light show, the Oakland Athletics Star Wars Light Show and the Grammy drone light show. Check out my saved Instagram stories for a behind-a-scenes look at the Oakland Athletics Star Wars Light Show.
  • Verge Aero was founded in 2016 and is based out of Austin, Texas. Among its top shows includes the premiere episode of “America’s Got Talent: Extreme,” President-Elect Biden’s victory celebration, and the Electric Daisy Carnival.

What are the drone light show costs for those U.S. companies?

Many of those smaller, independent companies offer light shows often at a much lower rate than what the Intel drone light show advertised.

But even still, it’s not “cheap.” Texas-based Verge Aero says its drone shows usually cost between $50,000 to $200,000 for a customized, outdoor drone light show. Its drones are capable of flying complex 3D animations and logos. The company requires a minimum of 100 drones for a simple show (but it says it has done shows with as few as 50 drones in more intimate settings). But for complex, 3D animations, Verge says it recommends a minimum number of 300 drones — thus a heftier price tag.

Sky Elements promises a lower starting rate, stating that show prices start at $20,000 for smaller shows — but it’s unlikely you’ll even pay that little as costs run far higher for larger, more intricate performances.

Disneyland Paris Marvel drone show coming this January
Concept art promoting the Disneyland Paris Marvel drone show.

Can drone light shows replace fireworks?

Many have suggested that drone light shows are a more environmentally friendly alternative to fireworks. But what about wallet-friendly?

Small-town holiday fireworks displays typically cost about $2,000 to $7,000 for a basic show, according to Premier Pyrotechnics. On a large scale, Disney spends an estimated $33,000 per show for its fireworks spectacular at its Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Fla.

Plus, while drone light shows don’t necessarily have the sonic impact of a fireworks display, experts say that drones, which can be arranged in seemingly infinite 3D shapes and colors, offer far more creative opportunities.

Some of the biggest entertainers, including Disney, are actually using drones in tandem with fireworks. The spring 2023 Marvel drone show at the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris uses a mix of fireworks, projections and drones to display an incredible sensory experience featuring superheroes including Captain America, Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch and, for the first time at Disneyland Paris, Shang-Chi.

Are you surprised by these drone light show costs? What event would you like to see a drone light show at? Leave a comment below!


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