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Will Drones Become the Newest Attraction at Theme Parks?

BY Isabella Lee
26 November 2019

It’s out with Shamu and in with the drones at SeaWorld San Diego.

The marine theme park has just been green-lighted by the California Coastal Commission to test out a drone light show in place of its nightly firework show. Before the show takes flight, they will also need permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Fireworks Seaworld San Diego

Fireworks at SeaWorld San Diego. Source: Kong of Lasers

A drone “fireworks” show like the one being considered by SeaWorld would require the FAA to waive the restriction on drone operations conducted at night and the restriction on operating multiple drones at once. Depending on the location of the show, additional permission may be required to operate in controlled airspace and/or over people.

SeaWorld to Put Drones to the Test February 2020 Pending FAA Approval

Granted that SeaWorld obtains the proper approvals from the FAA, they will begin a test run of a nightly aerial drone show during February 2020. The show will involve 500 illuminated Intel Shooting Star drones, programmed to perform a 5-minute show. During the show, the drones would depict various shapes formed by their onboard colored lights, accompanied by music played at ground level for park guests.

The Intel Shooting Star drones are designed specifically for drone light shows. Source: Intel

Given the marine theme of the park, SeaWorld contains sensitive animal habitats. The park chose the month of February because it falls outside the bird breeding and bird migratory seasons. Drones have demonstrated many positive benefits in the study of animals and wildlife, but they have also been banned from places like National Parks partly due to their potential to disrupt wildlife.

To be on the safe side, SeaWorld will monitor and report the noise, light, and potential bird strike impacts generated by performances. The California Coastal Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and CA Fish and Wildlife have said the chance of harm to wildlife is unlikely, given the short duration of the show and limited schedule of the test run period outside of the bird migratory season.

If the test run goes well, the drone light show could become a regular, nightly attraction at SeaWorld in the future.

Drones Are Becoming a Staple in Theme Park Attractions

The FAA has approved similar drone displays before, like the holiday drone light show, “Starbright Holidays,” performed at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in 2016. Over the years, drone light shows have been becoming increasingly popular. Drones can be found entertaining in all kinds of venues at events like Coachella, the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and the Olympics.

Drones are likely to become a staple in theme park entertainment in the future. Not only to replace firework shows, but as a part of rides and other attractions.

Universal Studios has a patent on using drones for special effects techniques that looks to deliver special effects during shows, rides and, potentially, to individual guests. They currently use drones as a part of their attraction, The Dark Arts at Hogwarts™ Castle in Hollywood, California. The dynamic light projection experience uses drones that create the Patronus as part of the Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle experience.

The Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle

And, with passenger drones in development by companies like AirBus and Ehang, we could even see them becoming a part of new thrill rides (think futuristic roller coaster) or park transit systems.

In what other creative ways could you see drones taking part in theme park entertainment? Are you excited about SeaWorld’s potential drone light show? Tell us in this thread on our community forum for drone pilots.

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