How to Become a Hot Air Balloon Pilot

If you have become interested in hot air balloon travel and want to see what it takes to pilot one yourself, this article will give you all the guidance you’ll need to achieve your dreams. Although it only takes 10 hours to become licensed, there is a lot of training that goes into those hours and most likely it cannot be achieved within a day, a week, or even a month.

There are in flight trainings to complete, oral tests to take, and written exams to pass before you can become a licensed hot air balloon pilot. There are also laws you must learn and understand so that you don’t get yourself into trouble while you are in the air.

The first thing you will want to learn are the laws, which will apply to you and your trainer while you are in the air for the first time. It is important to memorize and understand all of these laws because if they are broke, it can result in the revocation of your pilot license.

Laws

There are a lot of rules, regulations and laws in regard to balloon flight that go on for pages and pages, but it is important to read all of them before deciding to take a balloon in the air.

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The laws that apply to balloon flight are roped in with all vehicles capable or air flight. You must understand the laws of the air in order to prevent violation.

The law pertaining to any aircraft are listed on this website:

https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=46bcc89801048c2cf486c490e8a0e58d&mc=true&node=pt14.2.91#se14.2.91_1101

To focus on the laws that regard specifically to balloons, you can use this page:

https://www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_approvals/balloons/balloons_regs/

The FAA has been pressured to crack down on their laws on commercial hot air balloon use.

Some common things to consider are:

  • You may not operate a balloon while under the influence
  • You must always have at least 1 mile of visible air space around all sides to fly. If you are flying above 10,000 feet you must have 3 miles of visible air space around all sides.
  • You must have your pilot certification to fly a hot air balloon.
  • You must always fly 1,000 feet above the closest obstacle when flying in condensed regions.
  • You must fly at least 500 feet distance from any person, vessel, building, etc. at all times when over water or sparsely populated areas.
  • There is a list of procedures that must be followed when encountering different types of wind activity that may cause a flight disruption.
  • There are guides to how to land successfully and requirements in regard to choosing an appropriate landing area.

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Training:

As mentioned above, it takes 10 hours of training to get your hot air balloon pilot license. This license will be to pilot privately, not commercially.

The requirements that must be met in these 10 hours of training are:

  • You must be at least 16 years of age
  • You must complete 6 flights with the assistance of an instructor
  • You must complete 1 flight on your own
  • One of those flights must be above 2,000 feet.
  • Two of those flights must last over 1 hour
  • All requirements must be complete within 60 days of certification
  • You must pass a written exam
  • You must pass an in person practical skills test

The FAA also offers student pilot licenses, and they offer commercial pilot licenses that each have their own sets of requirements.

For a student license you only need to be 14 and be able to read, write, and comprehend English. That’s it!

For a commercial license, it’s a little more in depth:

  • You must be 18 years or older.
  • You must already have your private pilot license
  • You must have at least 35 hours of logged time piloting.
  • You must have taken at least 10 flights total
  • Two of the flights must have been as a solo pilot
  • You must have taken 1 flight at a height over 3,000 feet.
  • You must have completed 10 additional hours of advanced training
  • You must pass an advanced written exam
  • You must pass an advanced in person practical skills test.

As a commercial pilot, you can assume to make anywhere from $30,000-$100,000.00 a year depending on where you are piloting and how many rides you can give a day. Tethered balloon operators will likely be at the low end of this scale and operators at popular locations in and outside of the United States untethered can expect to be at the higher end.

But where do I go?

Now that you know all that goes into a license, the question persists, where do you go?

It probably isn’t going to be super easy to find a hot air balloon pilot trainer in close respect to where you live, so here are some companies that you should be on the lookout for when planning to get your training:

  • Airborne Heat Ballooning or The Balloon Flight School: Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Liberty Balloon Ground School: This school gives training in several locations throughout the year like Scranton Pennsylvania, Bethlehem Connecticut, Hot Springs South Dakota, Oklahoma City Oklahoma, Concord New Hampshire. You can follow this school’s schedule to get your private license training, or they also have online training courses to help you pass your written knowledge exam.
  • Balloon the Rockies: Saint George, Utah for commercial and private training
  • Balloonacy: Fayetteville, Georgia.

There are many more flight schools out there, but if you find you live too far to travel to one of them keep a look out for a traveling training company to come to your area like Liberty Balloon Ground School.

How much does it cost?

Of course, you can expect that there is some cost associated to training. When you opt to train through a school or training center the cost is generally going to be on average $350.00 USD. Don’t forget to include the amount it is going to cost you to drive there if that is what you plan on doing.

You also need to consider obtaining a balloon to complete your training. If you go to a school, there will be balloons available to train on but if you are going to train to be a pilot, odds are you probably want your own balloon. It is also smarter to have your own balloon so that you get used to flying it. This is going to be the most expensive part of the whole operation. While a balloon costs around $10,000.00 used or $40,000.00, you can rent one in the meantime for a lot cheaper, but you will still be looking about $1,000-4,000.00 USD. A lot of companies do offer financing the same as you would use to buy a car if you are looking to purchase a balloon brand new.

Another cost of training is that you are normally responsible for the cost of the fuel. You can expect to burn about $40.00 USD of fuel for every hour that you are operating the balloon.

Equipment cost is also something to look at when you start ballooning. There are some pieces of equipment that are mandatory to have in certain parts of the world, so you will want to make sure you have it before you start your training. Some of the equipment you will need to buy are ballooning gloves (est. $35.00), UHF Radio (est. $150.00), ballooning boots (est. $100.00), compass with map plotting capabilities (est. $35.00), and a waterproof clear map bag (est. $30.00).

A cost people don’t think about when they purchase a balloon is the cost associated with transporting their balloon wherever they want to take it. Baskets can be pretty big, and while some can fit in the back of a pickup truck, others will need to be towed on trailer. If you don’t have a truck or a trailer, that is another thing you will have to invest in.

If you aren’t sure that you want to take the plunge into training just yet, you can choose to volunteer at a balloon company to get a little more familiar with what piloting is going to be like. You can help pilots prepare their balloons for flights or actually assist on flights too. This will give you some good insight on what your daily job might be like if you are aiming to fly commercially. If you are choosing to train to fly privately this will get you more familiar with the transportation, set up, and take down of your balloon while getting you more familiar with the technology of the balloon and making you more comfortable in the air so you can get the most out of your trainings.

License Details

Luckily, there is no charge to actually take your exam to obtain your license. You can take your knowledge exam at a registered testing facility or you can take it online. The practical exam needs to be done at a testing facility.

There are knowledge preparation questions available on the FAA’s website to help you prepare for your exam. There are also plenty of practice tests available through other sources that you can take to help you.

Once you have passed your exam, it can take up to 120 days to receive your license. Upon receiving your license, you may immediately start operating with it.

Tip: If you would like to fly commercially, although it is not required, it may interest you to have a medical certification as well. This certification will cost you, however all pilots of aircrafts are required to have it and as a balloon pilot, it makes sense to have. If you are looking to fly a balloon for a company and you have this certificate it will certainly make you stand out above the rest.

Conclusion:

Now that you know how to become a hot air balloon pilot, it’s time to make it happen! Not only is this an exciting adventure, but it is an investment! Make sure that you are financially capable of starting and completing your journey. If you plan to make a career out of being a hot air balloon pilot, this investment will be worth it to make all your career goals come true.

As a private pilot you can enjoy the luxury of taking your balloon off to your favorite locations and rising high in the air to get aerial views of virtually whatever you want. This is a great thing to have if you are a couple that love to travel and are looking for something you can both do together at all of your favorite locations.

Is a pilot license a good investment? If you are planning to make a career out of it and are willing to move to obtain a good position: yes.

If you are planning on piloting privately: it is what you make it! If the price is worth your interest and love for flying, it’s a good investment.