Prominent organizers like the ones of the Olympic Games, Super Bowl, city-level commemorations, and advertising campaigns of world-famous brands have already integrated drone shows into their programs – which means you can definitely start a drone light show business in 2023 and be profitable.
Drone light shows are one of the most in-demand services right now for event organizers (and individuals too), and for good reason.
Wherever drones light up the sky, they leave audiences amazed, inspired, and with lasting memories.
I mean, just check this out:
Starting a drone light show business can be a bit harder than other drone businesses, and that’s because it needs a lot of software and moving parts.
In this article we’ll look at all the different parts of starting a drone business in general – what licenses you need, what kind of insurance you need, what business structure should you opt for, etc…
So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Before we move further in this article, let’s further define what a drone light show is – that’s because many people mistake it for hologram technology, which simply isn’t the case.
Put simply, a drone light show is a certain number of small drones that emit different light colors, that are programmed to interact in the sky and create any images conceived by the organizer using special software.
Drone light shows are performed by illuminated, synchronized, and choreographed groups of drones that arrange themselves into various aerial formations.
They don’t do that manually as it would be impossible for humans to coordinate it. It’s rather made by a computer, and flight paths are already defined. (kind of like how waypoints work for normal drones)
Almost any image can be recreated in the sky by a computer program that turns graphics into flight commands and communicates them to the drones.
One thing to note is that this isn’t a “Skynet” situation. Drones used in shows are not AI-driven, can’t think for themselves, and make no real-time decisions. Instead, they follow specific commands sent to them (by you) and can’t deviate from them!
Again, exactly like how waypoints work for larger drones – only this is a bit more detailed in terms of coordination.
Here is a typical drone light show preparation process:
The reason most drone light show commissions are so expensive (with the “cheap” ones being above $30,000) is that they require a lot of clever engineering work.
To the point that some drone light show companies actually either make their own drones or have manufacturers make custom drones for them (which requires a lot of investment).
Don’t be turned off though, there are still ways to get into this business with the least amount of investment capital possible (more on that later).
That’s the cool thing about starting a drone business, there is practically no barrier to entry – you only need some expertise and… money.
Starting a drone light show business is accessible to everyone. Two things to note when starting are the part 107 test and the local drone laws, which are easily manageable.
The first step to starting your drone business is to be FAA certified. You’ll need to pass the Part 107 test with a score of at least 70% to become a commercial drone pilot.
The regulatory laws will depend on where you live, so make sure to research your local laws to determine whether starting a drone business is viable.
You’ll find the drone laws of basically every state within the USA on dronesgator.com.
You’ll also need skills and expertise, which are easily acquired either through drone courses or through on-field experience.
After that, the only thing you need is startup capital, which brings us to the next point in this guide…
Launching your own drone light show business can be a stunning adventure! But it does require a fair bit of investment upfront.
It depends on various elements such as the kind of drones you choose to dance in the sky, the number you'll need, the equipment, and getting your pilots ready to fly with the right training and licenses.
Think of a small drone light show business as a starter kit for your sky-illuminating dreams. The starting budget is generally between $5,000 to $10,000.
This includes everything you'll need to get the show on the road - or in this case, in the air - like your drones, equipment, and getting your pilot up to speed with the proper training and licenses.
But, if you've got bigger dreams and want a grander spectacle lighting up the night, you might want to look at a larger setup. This could be somewhere between $50,000 to $200,000 or more, including high-tech equipment and training for a full squadron of pilots.
One thing to note is that starting a drone light show business is just the beginning. There are a lot of ongoing expenses like drone maintenance, repairs, insurance, and staff training.
Overall, it can be a profitable and exciting venture, with the right investment and drone business plan.
You can also get a loan from the bank or get a few investors to cover most of the start-up costs, but this is for another article.
About 80% of the costs I spoke of above are caused by drones. Truth is, as much as you’d like, starting a drone light show business with only 1 or two drones is simply not realistic.
The good news is that it’s also not as many as people think!
Most of the attention from the mainstream press is focused on Guinness world records set for ever larger numbers of drones, with the record currently being held by Intel with 2,066 simultaneous airborne drones in performance.
This is a great feat, but it really doesn’t take thousands of drones to create compelling content.
One reason why early drone shows focused on large numbers is that the drones were not very bright and did not accurately hold positions.
Back then, the content was designed so that the drones would fill a volume of space to illuminate it, and this required many drones.
Of course, the number of drones required depends on exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
Complex shows will always require more drones to accurately represent the art in the air. The more intricate the shape, the more drones you’re going to need to create it. The same goes for the audience size and viewing distance will influence how many drones are needed to make the required visual impact.
But usually, it doesn’t take a huge number of drones to create an impressive show. Even 50 drones can go a long way, and create shows that captivate the masses.
Pinning down an exact range at which to price a drone light show can be as tricky as trying to catch a shooting star.
It can range quite a bit, depending on things like how grand your show is, how long it lasts, how big your stage (aka the airspace) is, and what kind of (and how many) drones you choose to use.
Mini drone light shows with a limited troupe of drones and a shorter performance time can for example be priced lower.
Think of corporate get-togethers, weddings, birthdays, popping the question in style, or intimate parties – a compact drone show can be priced anywhere between $30,000 to $100,000. Yeah… drone shows are expensive.
But, if you're planning a larger event, you might want to consider a grander drone light spectacle. We're talking big concerts, international conferences, or headline-grabbing events like the Olympics – these are all ripe for a drone performance that really steals the show!
These show-stopping performances can range from $100,000 to $500,000 or more, depending on how dazzled you want your audience to be (and how much magic you're willing to invest in). When it comes to drone shows, the sky really is your playground!
Here’s a table I put together for you that’ll really give you an idea of how much to price your drone show (based on the average prices of various drone shows and the number of drones that were used).
|NUMBER OF DRONES
|200 classic drones
|Simple recognizable logo and shape designs, best suited for small spaces.
|300 classic drones
|Dynamic animations, moving shapes, figures, text.
|300 premium drones
|Creative or custom 3D animations.
|500 premium drones
|Large detailed 3D animation.
|More than 500 drones
|Larger visuals and animations using thousands of drones.
I’ve already written a detailed article about this which you can check over here. But here’s a quick rundown:
All professional drone pilots require Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification to obtain a remote pilot certificate. In the U.S., you need to be at least 16 years of age before you can apply for one. The cost to take this certification is relatively low, typically around $150. It’s possible to take it either online or in person.
Specifically, you’re looking for training in unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Once you’ve passed the training, you’re a certified drone pilot.
Yes and no, because while it’s not exactly illegal to not have insurance if you’re running a drone business you’ll most likely have to.
That’s especially true for a drone light show business, where the risk of crashes that can injure people is more pronounced.
There is no law that requires you to have drone insurance if you use one for business or recreational purposes. But if you’re using a drone for work-related purposes, you’ll want to consider getting the best drone insurance policy.
The reason why drone insurance (especially liability insurance) is important is that if you cause accidental property damage or injuries to someone else while operating your drone for work, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for repairs, medical bills, and lawsuits – if you’re covered however, you won’t need to have a thing (in most cases).
You should also keep in mind that most of your clients WILL require you to have drone insurance if you use a drone for a project. If you don’t have drone insurance, they won’t hire you.
So there is that too!
If you want to read up more on this, I’ve written a full guide about drone insurance over here.
That’s a great question and worth considering before starting your own light show business.
If properly executed by professional teams, drone shows are extremely safe, as Intel has demonstrated with its perfect safety record over the past four years.
Fireworks are beautiful, but drone shows are even more mesmerizing, and they’re GREEN!
Fireworks shows are increasingly criticized for their negative environmental impact—they are noisy, polluting, and wasteful. While drones are the complete opposite.
Concerns are regularly raised around their impact on sensitive wildlife populations, as well as military veterans experiencing PTSD. What’s more, in many locations, fireworks displays have been banned altogether, due to the increased risk of wildfires.
But, fireworks are far from being replaced – simply because of the cost issue of drone shows.
Fireworks are much more cost-effective and many times event organizers on a budget will opt for them instead of drones.
Drone light shows are a very lucrative opportunity. But, as you can see for yourself they do need start-up capital to perform correctly.
On average, you’d need about $10,000 to start your drone light show business properly, and it doesn't stop there.
Because then you’d have to network and market yourself and your services. I’ve actually covered all of this in my “how to start a drone business” article, which I recommend you check out as soon as you’ve finished reading this one.