Melbourne’s COVID-canceled New Year’s drone show reboots [Update]

Melbourne drone show

COVID-19-related complications have forced the city of Melbourne to cancel its much-anticipated New Year’s Eve drone show – a 350-craft spectacle that had been touted as the largest ever planned in Australia.

Announced amid great excitement in November, Melbourne’s New Year’s Eve drone performance was to be composed of two separate seven-minute shows over the city’s Dockland area, which includes Victoria Harbour. Those synchronized flights were to be flown by the England-based UAV art company Celestial, which has several highly successful spectacles to its record – including one this month that won an award in the Second International Drone Show competition. In revealing the decision to cancel the December 31 aerial events, Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp said the move was linked to difficulties created by COVID-19-based restrictions, rather than an increased health threat as the omicron variant spreads.

“Despite the best efforts of the Celestial team, the rapidly changing environment has impacted their ability to deliver the show safely,” Capp said, citing staff quarantine requirements and supply chain disruptions that delayed the arrival of critical drone show equipment like batteries. “We know this decision is disappointing.”

January 13 Update

In the spirit of better (two weeks) late than never, Melbourne officials have now given the all-clear for the cancelled Celestial drone show to take place, with a program of two performances each night to begin January 15.

Free to anyone wishing to attend, the shows will run through January 30, beginning at 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 pm. respectively – barring any bouts of poor weather (not to mention renewed Omicron disruption).

“This is your chance to get down to Docklands and enjoy the first ever drone show in Melbourne,” Capp announced this week. “While the cancellation of the New Year’s Eve drone event was disappointing, we can’t wait to stun crowds and support local businesses with this breathtaking display throughout January.”

Local press coverage reporting the cancellation notes that all Celestial technicians and pilots have now cleared quarantine, and gear for the performance has also arrived in Melbourne. But the delays awaiting that prevented Celestial from conducting all required test flights, which ultimately imposed annulation of the New Year’s Eve drone shows.

As vexing as that will be to the 40,000 people who’d been ticketed for the events, Capp said that as many of twice-nightly series of drone shows slated to run January 3 to 30 as possible will be maintained once Celestial’s requisite testing is finished. Those performances will be financed by a portion of the $73 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund, which is earmarked for restoring activity to the central business district hit hard by successive COVID-19 lockdown orders. 

The consequences of COVID-19 on technicians and equipment coming in from abroad that caused the cancellation is a rather cruel twist to Australians who suffered through the antipodean winter rife renewed lockdowns, and were looking forward to the lowered contagion risks of summer. Just this week, national authorities decided to reverse the easing of restrictions despite increasing omicron cases, including the first death ascribed to the variant.

But rather than mourning Melbourne’s January 31 drone shows, Capp urged residents to take cheer at a nearing future promising gradually decreasing pandemic chaos.

“It’s disappointing that COVID-19 has disrupted yet another set of plans in 2021 and we won’t have the drones swarming in Docklands this New Year’s Eve,” Capp said. “But I’m so excited to join tens of thousands of Melburnians in the city to see the back of 2021 and celebrate the start of a new and better year.”

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