How To Become A Licensed Hot Air Balloon Pilot (In the United States)

How To Become A Licensed Hot Air Balloon Pilot (In the United States)

Ever since humans started walking on earth, they have always wanted to reach the skies. Humans have always dreamed about flying high as Birds. Biologically it may not be possible, but a hot air balloon can take you as far as you like. Being its pilot is one of the most exciting and adventurous jobs. 

There are specific qualifications that you must acquire before getting into the profession. First, you need a professional license and ten hours of flight in the hot air balloon. You must practice as an assistant for six flights. 

Apart from this, you must have taken the balloon 2000 feet above from the take-off point at least once and handled two flights lasting more than an hour. There is also a 60-day certification you need to pass along with the written and practical tests. All these qualifications are for those who become a private hot air balloon pilot. You can also get a student license and commercial pilot license from the FAA.

Here we will discuss clearly the things you required to become a hot air balloon pilot.

Types of Hot Air Balloon Pilot Licenses

The faa offers three different types of hot air balloon pilot licenses. They are the student license, the private license, and the commercial license. All of the three are different, but all of the three licenses require the same commitment. 

You can arrange the three licenses in ascending order. Each license is required to move forward in the field. 

You can start with the student license first and move forward as it is the easiest one to obtain. Depending upon the money and time you are willing to put in, you will get the following license. 

Now we will move on probing into the requirements and benefits of each license.

Student License

A student license is the most basic license, and it does not require any technical expertise. 

To obtain a student license, 

  • You must be 14 years or older 
  • Have essential communication and writing skills in English 
  • Should not have any critical medical conditions that will stop you from flying high (no medical certificate required).

This sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? It is simple. Obtaining a student license is more or less like a hobby. So you don’t require much experience. 

You just have to fill in the application and wait. The application is free of cost, and you can fill it up here

There will hardly be any chances for you to fly right away. This student’s license can help you proceed with the private license. 

Obtaining a student license is like joining a course to train. It trains you at the beginner level. 

If you are willing to obtain the student license through a flying school or a flight instructor, you might have to pay a processing fee. You can save this cost if you directly send the applications to the flight standards district office.

Private License

The training you complete with the student license in hand is the requirement for a private license. You don’t have anything pretty much to do if you already have a student’s license. 

The following are the requirements for a private license. 

  • Your age Should not be lower than 16 
  • 10 hours of flight training is a must 
  • Should have completed six flights under the supervision 
  • You must have completed flights lasting more than 60 minutes 
  • Should have passed the written FAA knowledge test and practical test 
  • Should ascent the balloon two thousand feet above the ground (take-off point)

The institute or the trainer will teach all these skills to you in the student training. You must pass the written test. Many people give up on the student license as the written test is much harder than flying hot air balloons.  

As mentioned earlier, getting a private license is more challenging than getting a student license. It requires much money and time for you to devote. You must pass the knowledge test to qualify for the license. 

With the student’s license, you can only fly under supervision or assist a pilot, but with the private license, you can fly an actual balloon on your own. 

For those who take up balloons seriously, the private license isn’t higher to grab.

Commercial License

A commercial license is a license that allows you to fly balloons for commercial purposes. The private license will enable you to fly professionally but not for money. 

This commercial license allows you to make money from your passion. 

This is quite a hard license to get. The following are the requirements for a commercial license. 

  • It would be best if you were above 18 years e. 
  • You should have a private pilot license. 
  • You should have spent 35 hours as a hot air balloon pilot. 
  • Taken ten flights ( not necessarily as a pilot) 
  • Travelled two times as a pilot 
  • Taken  a controlled ascent 3000 feet above the ground 
  • Hold a record of 10 hours in advanced training. 
  • Compulsorily passed the written knowledge and practical test.

If you take passengers in a hot air balloon and run it as a business, you must be quite an expert with hot air balloons. This is what this license wants from you. 

With the commercial license, you can get a job in private companies or run your own firm. 

Another benefit of getting a commercial license is that you can also become a hot air balloon trainer. You can either start practising as a private trainer to join a training academy and teach there. However exciting this might sound, the work is really tedious. If you are seriously planning to take up ballooning as your career, you can confidently go for the commercial license.

How to get started?

After you make a decision, it might be so confusing where to start. Starting your career as a hot air balloon pilot is like crossing the Amazon. It will go on and on without an end. You have to keep learning and updating your skills. 

Before all that, you must start from somewhere. If you are not part of a ballooning community in your circle, you might be clueless about what to do and where to start. It’s good that you are here now with us. You are in safe hands. We’ll guide you through all the steps and processes involved. 

To start with the student license, get your application form quickly and start filling it soon! 

Now let us start with some of the preparatory measures.

Planning your moves

As soon as you decide on your career, start planning. You may not be a ‘planning’ person. You would want to go with the flow. In the case of being a pilot, you may not always go well without a clear plan. 

To make a plan, you must first decide what your goal is. Without a purpose, there is nothing to move forward. Be clear in what type of license you want. 

Take into consideration how much money you can offer for the training and how much time you can devote. Apart from your working and school schedules, you should reserve the required time to get trained. 

Flying schools do not go with the usual school timings. They are either conducted early in the morning or late at night. You must make time for it in between your work schedule. 

If you wish to schedule your flight timings only for the weekend, you must not miss out the lessons. Most of the flying schools book their training flights not for. This will keep your skills consistent, so do not worry about losing touch with the balloons. 

Now we’ll get more into the costs and expenses as a pilot. 

A total of 5000 Dollars will cost just for the license you get. If you are working a full-time job planning of getting the permit, start as soon as possible. 

The sooner you start training, the better it will be to manage the expenses. 

Take a look at your savings time schedules and formulate a plan. Decide what you want to get, where you want to get it, how much time you will need, how much money you are willing to spend, and then start working.

Find a Good Hot Air Balloon Pilot Training School or Trainer

Once you have decided, it is time to find the right place for you to start. It would help if you had an experienced and expert trainer, to begin with. A pilot trainer is not just someone who teaches you but also monitors you and corrects you. 

All great heroes have mentors. Don’t you want one? 

There are several training schools and private flight instructors to help you out. Before approaching one, remember that they must be certified. Same as a flying school, a personal trainer, will record your improvements and learning. This record is necessary for you to get a license. 

If you already have a pilot or a trainer’s acquaintance, then don’t delay any more; ask them. Even if they don’t want to train you personally, they can be there to guide you. 

If there is no one you know then lookup Google for help. You can search for the best schools and trainers available near you. Check out the reviews to make sure the institute is credible. You can also give Cameron balloons a visit or a call. They are best known for their services. Anywhere inside the United States, you can find an instructor or school through them. 

Do not give up if you don’t find a school meeting your expectations. Continue your search till you find the perfect place.

Volunteer for a Crew

Your responsibilities are not done with just joining a school. You must get to know the balloon and its operative mechanism. You could try volunteering as a crew member. This volunteering will offer you practical knowledge and training to prepare yourself for the tests. This is additional knowledge you can acquire by yourself. 

Being a crew member gives you real-time training and experience. No one has ever become a pilot without being a member of the crew. Working behind the screens sometimes helps you a lot. You will understand what is going on inside the balloon. 

The best part is that you get to fly for a long time. This time will help you identify your health problems (if you have any) and rectify them. 

While volunteering, you will be assigned some basic tasks like looking after the checklist, taking care of the balloon after landing, etc. There will be a head pilot to guide you. While flying, you can observe him and the method he uses. 

You will get to know each corner of the balloon, maintain it and how they work, etc.

Many flying schools prefer their students to work as a crew member. Suppose you are going to join a crew don’t do it for your school. Please do it for yourself, for your own experience. Trust us; you will not regret the experience.

How much time does it take to become a Hot Air Balloon Pilot?

The most important reason people give up in the middle of training as a pilot is that it is time-consuming. Now, this is an essential question for us to address in the beginning. You must train yourself to manage time if you are determined to become a pilot. 

Now let us clear some of the basic myths about becoming a pilot. 

You would have seen some advertisements on paper saying “Become a pilot in just one week!!” Do not fall for it. Do not. 

In reality, it is no way possible to become a pilot in a week. They just teach you the basics. This cannot be e accepted as a certified pilot. To become a pilot, you need a lot of Pre-requirements and preparations before taking off. All they do is damp you with information and give access to the equipment for a week. You get to see what is going on in there but not actually learn. 

Now let us jump to reality. In real, if you enrol in a training school, you need almost 6 to 10 months to be trained as a pilot. On average, a student spends 22 hours for nearly ten months. This is how you prepare for the written test. Being brutally honest, the test is so hard that you have to study so well to pass it. 

There are also fixed training hours that you need to be certified on to get your license. Let us dive further into the other factors involving time.

Fixed Training Hours

Have you ever heard about the 10,000-hour rule? Most of you might have heard about it. According to that rule, if you keep doing something for 10,000 hours, you will master it. Be it education or art or any skill, you will become a pro in it. 

Some of them don’t believe in the 10,000-hour rule. Scientists and psychologists also have not aligned with the law. How much time you practice is not more important than how you practice

There is a similar rule in training as a hot air balloon pilot. You don’t exactly have to fly 10,000 hours. You must have the record for flying 10 hours to get the license. Ten hours are way better than 10,000 hours. 

Ten hours of flight training is a minimum. It would be best if you had more than that to get used to the balloon. Being a pilot is not just flying the balloon. You must know about the balloon from top to bottom before taking off. 

Since 10 hours of training is essential for the license, we stress it. You will need to spend much more time with the balloon if you want to fly high in the sky. 

These 10 hours you spend in the sky is used to evaluate your performance and ability. Your institute or your trainer will make a record of the time you have spent in the sky. The FAA, before providing takes those records into account before giving a pilot’s license. It will also play an important role while you go for jobs as a skilled pilot. 

If you have a private instructor, he will record all your performances, flying Hours, skills, and the things you are good at. He will maintain this record till you get the license. If you are joining an institute, they will maintain a logbook for all the students. 

If you ask any certified pilot or even your own trainer, he will tell you that he has spent up more than 20 hours flying before becoming a pilot. That is how you hone your skills. If you think you are spending much time on it, don’t worry, it’s all for the greater good.

Studying the Weather and Other External Factors

Ask a pilot what annoys him the most. He would not say the politicians, the traffic, or anything else. You say it is the weather that annoys him the most. This is, in fact, bitter to accept but the truth. Nothing annoys a pilot more than bad weather, especially in days of training. 

When everything is on track and set ready, it would start to rain. This will ruin your entire mood and spirit. Even if you love rain so much, you cannot take off. 

It is not just about taking off. The weather should be fair, not only for flying. If you are about to have a practical class, you cannot have it indoors. Imagine the weather going bad exactly on the day you are about to get a license. Sounds worst, right? This is how things could go. If you are from some rainy town, then, needless to say, the rain will take a toll on you throughout the course. 

It might be rain or a cloudy afternoon or windy evening. Any of these will indeed not allow you to fly. 

Since you are training to fly a hot air balloon, the sky has to be clear as much as possible. If your town is generally rainy, then you might miss out a lot just because of this. 

Be ready for anything. You can miss out on a class or two, an important practical class or even a flight session. Whatever be the case, do not stress yourself much about missing that. Keep calm and get ready for the next level. 

Let’s also look at some of the other aspects that can come in between you and your flight schedule. The most important thing you have to adjust with your trainer is the timings. He can have a lot of other appointments at the time you want. You might want to go to work by the time he is free. Talk with your trainer or contact the institute and reframe your flight timings so that you don’t have to compromise on your work. 

Next comes the most important of all—health issues. Many people do not realize that they get sick when they fly high. They will not even know that before flying. They get to know their own illnesses after one or two sessions. This is why most of the institutes encourage a medical check-up before enrollment. 

Some people might be ok with an hour of flight but get nausea after flying for a couple of hours. This cannot precisely be stated as an illness. Make sure you are entirely alright even before joining. Do a thorough medical check-up before joining in. You don’t want to waste your time, do you?

Do Not Lose Focus

If you wish to make the best of your efforts, stay focused and committed to what you are doing. Even if it’s a minor issue, care to address it. Do not forget your goal at any point. 

The ultimate reason you are taking this training is to obtain the license and become a successful pilot. Do not compromise in this for anyone or anything. Small discomforts and failures might occur. You can only look for opportunities to groom you and not to discourage you at any point. 

Stay committed to your goals, and you will be flying high in no time.

Cost of Becoming a Pilot

The truth is, is becoming a pilot costs a lot. It is relatively expensive than other professions. 

Have you ever eaten 83 slices of avocado toast? Or bought some shares of Apple stocks? Sounds expensive, right? Becoming a pilot costs more than that—a lot more than the expenses as mentioned above. 

If you calculate the total cost, it might come around $5,000. The fee actually depends upon the institute or trainer. However, if you roughly add up the expenses, it will come a bit higher than $6,000.

The money you pay for your license is your investment for the rest of your life. So don’t hesitate to invest in yourself. It will definitely be worth it. In addition to it, if you really love flying, you will fly for the rest of your life. That will never be a waste of time or money. 

There are lots of people who wish to fly but could not. So if you can, do not doubt your talents. You will be one among the very few you can literally take other people up. 

You might have questions about the structure of fees and the other expenses for license and pieces of equipment. Let us break it down for you and explain why it costs so much.


The first thing you will be paying for is your classes. You can take classes either from an institute or a personal, professional trainer. Both of them will cost you the same. The money you give is worth the lessons you learn, for sure. 

You might have a professional trainer, you know, but you cannot always expect them to teach for free. They can give you the basic lessons and tips free of cost. When it comes to professional classes and practical training, they will want you to pay. They, too, have bills to pay. 

It involves hours of dedication and lots of money to become a professional trainer or start a training institute. They teach you what they have learnt. They would obviously charge for that. Nothing comes for free. If it does, the best is to stay away from it.

If someone offers you free pilot training, either the training is useless, or the person is trying to cheat you. The money you give them is hard-earned. Please do not waste it on scammers. Be careful about where you put your pennies.


We have just arrived at the critical part. If you are not clear about this part, then there are chances for you to end up getting cheated. 

There are only two ways around it. Either you buy your own equipment or rent it. Buying your hot air balloon will cost three times more than your fees, but if you rent it, it will be a lot cheaper. You can rent it from your trainer or the institute you learn from. 

If you do not have a clear idea of what is cheaper and what is costlier, someone might cheat you with the defective product. If a person tries to sell a hot air balloon for less than $1000 or $5000, then run away from them. They might sell defective parts or spam you. 

When we said, it will cost you $5000 for the training it included the equipment too. You will need it when you go for your practical classes. So you can rent it whenever you need it. 

If you consider buying it, then you must have adequate storage space for it. Storage and maintenance are essential to keep them alive for a long time. Damps and dungeons might not work very well with hot air balloons. The air balloon cost up to 15000 dollars. Along with the maintenance, it might exceed. So to be on the safer side, it is good to rent.

Other Costs

Wondering what other things might cost you? The money you spend on yourself is the additional expenses. You might be a resident student or travel to the institute. Whatever be the case, you still have to spend money on yourself during the training period. 

These expenses do not limit just to food and residence. They also involve the meetings you are attending, the acquaintances you make, and the social gathering see you attend. If you are in an Institute, there will be a ballooning community there. If you attend their meeting and be a part of them, you might as well have to spend on that. 

It is good that you get yourself involved in many events and communities but keep in mind the purpose you have come for. Do not deviate from it. This intention will help you use your money wisely.

Final Words

By the time you finish reading this article, you will be clear that it will not be an easy job to become a pilot. It involves fierce commitment and challenges throughout the journey. 

The profession is not everyone’s cup of tea. If by chance, you are suitable for it, then ballooning has chosen you. It is a spirit to explore. Not everyone gets it. Keep going ahead in your track. 

If you happen to pass any negative comments on your way, ignore them and explore yourself. That is what pilots do.

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