Is licensing for firework displays tricky in the Middle East?
Licensing in general is something that for fireworks around the world, it’s predominantly the same - it’s difficult everywhere! It’s not just the licensing component though, the tricky thing is the transportation.
People need to be aware of the lead time required to produce firework shows, which is lengthy unless you have them in the country with storage like the UAE.
Take Qatar for example, there is no storage so we would need a minimum of three weeks lead time to do any small fireworks show or big fireworks show. Most countries don’t have storage, so we are actively advocating storage around the different countries in the Gulf which will open the market from doing 10 big shows a year to doing 50 or 60 shows.
Why is there no storage for pyrotechnics in places like Qatar? Given the number of recent firework displays?
It’s from a safety point of view and a legal point of view. Keeping storage has to be under military control, it’s not like the rest of the world where certain companies have their own stores – it has to be guarded for security reasons. I agree that explosives and materials of this nature do have to be under military control, it’s really safe – ensures the safety of the public and the interests of the country.
What ‘red tape’ do you have work through before putting on a display?
We firstly have to apply through the Ministry of Interior, as well as others including Ministry of Environment, customs authorities, Civil Aviation Authority and so on.
Then there’s a certain process that gets validated, the Ministry of Environment for instance make sure that the material used in the fireworks do not harm the environment, checking there’s no plastic in the shells, the stuff is bio-degradable, and that the chemicals and components used in the pyrotechnics are environmentally friendly as much as possible.
We cannot say that fireworks are a ‘sustainable’ thing per say, but companies like Grucci for example spend an extensive amount of research and development in using the right metals, the right products and the right chemicals to counter-weigh that component.
What’s involved in the transportation, safety and set up process before a fireworks show?
There is two steps in the process, there’s two different classes of fireworks. There’s class 1.3, that can only be bought over by boat or truck – and there’s class 1.4 which can be brought over by plane.
These are lower category explosives that can be flown in. But the predominance – around 70 or 80 percent of fireworks and components including fuses and things like this, have to come in through naval means.
Once you have it it’s a case of storing it temporarily on sight in a secure location called a safety zone – which is the staging area under military control –always supervised by the explosives department.
Whenever we’re working with fireworks there’s always someone here from that department that looks closely at how we deal with the explosives and makes sure we are working in a safe manner
In this staging area, no one is allowed to come inside unless they are a licenced pyrotechnician, and this staging area can be either 50x50 metres all the way up to 100x100 metres depending on the calibre of fireworks you’re working with.
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Is the safety element of putting on firework displays taken as seriously in the Gulf as it is elsewhere round the world?
I think the safety element concerning fireworks in this region is adhered to very well, it’s very much equivalent to everywhere else around the world – if not more. We can really pay homage to the men of the explosives department and the military because they really go out of their way to ensure public safety.
In Qatar when we’re transporting fireworks – we’re escorted by a pyrotechnics convoy involving traffic police, internal security forces, a fire truck that follows closely and also an ambulance at the back of the convoy in case there is an incident, there to immediately react. This you actually see more in this part of the world than other places.
Can you tell us a bit about the pricing element involved in putting on these shows?
The pricing is usually very scalable to the logistic costs. The actual physical pyrotechnic component is actually quite a reduced number when you see the whole magnitude of the show. A lot of it is logistics, for example flights for the pyrotechnicians.
I mean, we don’t have 100 licensed pyrotechnicians in the Middle East - I am the only licensed one in the state of Qatar for example.
So the pricing revolves around the skilled resources to get people in. The components like the shipping, the cranes and the trucks to move things in and out, also securing the perimeter zones and infrastructure to support the police to do their job – all of these things come at a significant cost.
In America for instance I have 20, 30, 40 facilities that I can store fireworks in the different states. I can just drive a few kilometres, pick up a box of fireworks and be on my way. You have hundreds of pyrotechnicians right there that are licensed.
The problem is a question of availability. While the UAE is well equipped – you have at least five or six pyrotechnic companies that do this for a living and have permanent staff based in the region that can reduce these costs - in places like Qatar, Oman or Bahrain for example it’s not the same, the programme has to sustain some of these costs.
We know Dubai is famed for its firework displays but whereas in the Gulf do you think is making a big impression in the pyrotechnic scene?
I think Qatar is really going out of its way to do augmented shows and bigger things. Kuwait obviously participated in the world record a couple of years ago that was turned over by Dubai at the end of last year – but I think more and more in Qatar, in the build up to the World Cup in 2022 we’re seeing bigger and better shows and bigger wishes from clients to do things.
Qatar predominantly used to have four or five major fireworks shows a year, now we’re seeing more and more. We’re seeing them for opening ceremonies and other events, and I think the country is making strides to do things in the region that are comparable.
But the UAE still leads the way, and what Grucci did with the NYE display in Dubai was a feat on its own, I just would say Qatar could be the second ‘superpower’ in the region when it comes to fireworks shows very, very soon.
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Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement in the record breaking Dubai NYE display?
We came over and supported Grucci for that, myself and a small team of skilled logistics and operations people. We were part of the team that moved the 75 trailers of fireworks and equipment around the crescent and put everything in position.
It was an intricate piece of coordination, everything was done with very specific GPS co-ordinates, every truck was parked in a very specific way ensuring the safety of the audience. Also making sure those aerial shots you saw in the media were precise, that there was no major issues in those beautiful scenes of the Palm that night.
What display have you been involved with at Innovations Unlimited that you are most proud of?
We’re actually in partnership with Grucci in Gulf region and exclusive partners in the state of Qatar, and together we delivered the National Day fireworks on December 18th on 2013 which was a very, very big show. There was thousands of people on the street and it was an extensive show with 40 pontoons floating all around.
I would say I’m probably most proud of that one. We co-delivered it with Grucci who got the ‘rockets in the air’ - we were the local partner and had the local licence - I project led this one, was on the island with the men and women creating the fireworks display and then I was at the control position as we were firing the show, coordinating the show to make sure everything was fine from a music point of view, or from a standing point of view – working with the broadcast and cameras to do this.
I really adore what the visionaries of the Middle East - and especially the UAE - want to do for their country. In the end fireworks are something that everybody loves.
If we break it down to a chemical point of view, fireworks actually secrete special chemicals in the brain and it’s been documented medically that they give people special endorphins. It’s such a joyous thing to see, whether you’re young or old – it brings a smile to people’s faces and that’s a beautiful thing to be associated with.