Drones are going to be lighting up the night sky above the Hudson River Thursday night. Why, you may ask? Well how could you not know it’s Candy Crush Saga’s 10th anniversary? Such an event obviously demands filling the western New York City skyline with displays of poking a silly cupcake to make other cupcakes explode.
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As first reported by Gothamist, the planned display has also caused some heavy backlash among both legislators and bird advocates in New York City.
The drones are set to be out in force late Thursday evening with a fleet of 500 taking to the air from Liberty State Park in New Jersey before flying out to the shoreline near the park. A spokesperson for the event told Gizmodo those drones will fly up to 400 feet above ground around 7:45 p.m. where they’ll conduct their 15-minute display.
Though the festivities for Candy Crush Saga’s 10-year anniversary are meant to happen near Battery Park, the display is staying clear of New York City since it’s illegal to fly drones in New York City. Notably, New Jersey laws also restrict drones from flying in its state parks, but the company operating the drones, Pixis, gained a permit to launch its fleet from the edge of Liberty State Park. According to a press release from King, the Activision-owned developer of the immensely popular Candy Crush Saga, the display is meant to take “one of the world’s most beloved mobile games on earth to the world’s biggest screen—the sky!”
According to a copy of Pixis’ permit provided to Gizmodo from the New Jersey State Parks Department, there will be 25 people on the far side of the Hudson operating the drones and snapping pictures. The drones themselves are supposed to recreate iconic elements from the game “to be seen by New Yorkers” even though, in reality, it will be closer to New Jersey than any Manhattanite.
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Things get even more complicated when trying to identify which governing entity has jurisdiction for the air above the Hudson River. Though the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has much authority in and around the Hudson, the air above the space is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, as confirmed by a PA spokesperson.
In an email to Gizmodo, an FAA spokesperson said “Pixis Drones is responsible for coordinating with local law enforcement, park police, city officials and others as appropriate.” These shows require waivers that normally restrict users from operating more than one drone at a time. The agency spokesperson further said it reviews drone shows to maintain safety, including procedures in case drones fail or if an aircraft gets too close. Drone operators are meant to restrict where they fly to a select area using GeoFencing technology.
It’s migratory season for many bird populations moving from Canada down to Central and South America, and bird advocates said this drone show could not be happening at a worse time. Dustin Patridge, the director of conservation for New York City Audubon, told Gizmodo that artificial light is a major factor for the quarter of a million birds who die from collisions and misdirection every year in New York City. The Hudson is a rare place among the city sprawl that isn’t polluted with massive amounts of artificial light.
Now having this light show over the Hudson corridor during migratory season may well have a detrimental effect on bird populations, Partridge said. Even though the birds are flying well above the 400 feet the drones are operating at, the conservation expert said that with many bird species on the decline in 2022, anything that may harm migratory species is something that needs close attention.
“We haven’t heard about this show until very recently, but we would have flagged it as something that shouldn’t happen during migration,” he said. “It’s just another cut for these bird populations that are experiencing death by a thousand cuts.”
Despite the hubub around this event, the Candy Crush promotion is not the first time Pixis has conducted a drone show over the Hudson. The NBA held their own massive drone show in June for the 2022 NBA draft. Those drones sported giant lights that put out messages like “The Future Starts Now.”
State Sen. Brad Hoylman represents a part of Western Manhattan that includes Battery Park. In an email statement to Gizmodo, he called the FAA and New Jersey’s permission of the drone show “outrageous,” adding that the “profit-seeking drone show threatens the public safety, wildlife, and peaceful enjoyment of New York City’s waterfront.”
Hoylman has been railing against huge, blinking ads off the Battery for years now. In 2019, New York City finally won a lawsuit against the giant floating LED advertisements that were regularly seen floating down the Hudson and other major NYC waterways. The company, Ballyhoo Media, was forced to pay $100,000 to the city and move their billboard boat to Florida. Hoylman sponsored a state law banning floating ads. He’s also sponsored the so-called “Stop the Chop Act” that would allow the New York Attorney General to file nuisance complaints against drones and helicopters in New York airspace. The state senate passed the bill back in June and it still awaits the Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature or veto.
Drone shows have not become too common in the U.S., especially compared to countries like China which have performed them for major historic events like the 2018 Winter Olympics as well as relatively small affairs such as the release of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic.