Average Cost to Become a Licensed Hot Air Balloon Pilot


Are you interested in becoming a hot air balloon pilot? Well, it’s going to cost you. You probably already knew that, so the real question is how much?

On average, training to get a private pilot’s license will cost between $3,000 and $5,000. This cost includes instruction fees, renting equipment, and study materials. If the equipment is already owned, the cost could be considerably cheaper for the training process.

If you really want to become a hot air balloon pilot, these figures shouldn’t discourage you at all! Let’s take a closer look at the costs associated with becoming a hot air balloon pilot and discuss how you can afford them!

The Actual Costs

The first thing we’ll cover is the actual costs you’ll incur while training to become a hot air balloon pilot. These costs are universal, unforgiving, and must be paid by all.

Starting with the costs may be discouraging, but it’s also the best place to start! Before starting any journey, it’s best to confront the brutal facts. At the same time, it’s important to not lose faith in the dream!

Before you found this internet article, you were probably pretty focused on the dream, or the ideal. This first section will pretty much ignore the dream and only focus on the present reality.

The gap between the dream (becoming a hot air balloon pilot) and the immediate reality (costs and challenges of becoming a pilot) is what can be so discouraging at times. That relationship looks kind of like this:

So, while we focus on the immediate reality, or the brutal facts, for just a moment, don’t lose hope! We will soon discuss how to bridge “the gap” and make your dream become your reality!

With that having been said, let’s jump into the actual costs of becoming a hot air balloon pilot!

Training Fees

They say that there are two things in life you can’t avoid: death and taxes. Well, in getting your private pilot’s license to become a hot air balloon pilot, there are two other things you can’t avoid: training fees and equipment costs.

Let’s start with the training fees. The first thing you should know is that you’ll need an instructor to teach you how to become a hot air balloon pilot! And that instructor won’t work for free.

There are a number of different requirements you must meet to get your private pilot’s license. Go ahead and view those here in my other article. You can’t complete those requirements all by yourself! You’ll need an instructor.

Think of it this way: Frodo needed Gandalf. Luke needed Obi-Wan. Bill and Ted needed Rufus. In your hero’s journey, you need an instructor who is full of wisdom and experience!

As it turns out, wisdom and experience don’t come cheap! Flight schools will charge you a fee for the instruction they provide. The more instruction you require, the more you’ll end up paying. Be a fast learner!

In all candor, it’s a really good thing that you’ll get charged a training fee. The cost should reflect the value of the instruction. If you aren’t getting charged for your training, that’s pretty sketchy!

Expect training fees to account for $1,000-$2,000 of your overall budget!

Equipment

Odds are you don’t own a hot air balloon. I’d also guess that you aren’t going to be getting a hot air balloon anytime soon. So for the training process, you’ll probably have to rent all your own equipment.

In the off-chance that you are interested in getting your own balloon, scroll down a little further to where we discuss that!

When you rent your equipment, this is probably what you’ll get: an envelope, basket, fuel, inflation fan, ground tarp, and any other knick-knacks your flight school may provide.

With all of those things, you should be ready to fly! Renting your equipment will be the most expensive part of your training. It could easily run you $2,000-$3,000. So, why is this?

Well, hot air balloons are expensive, and their maintenance is expensive. Plus, you’ll burn $30-$40 of fuel for each hour you spend in the air. To fulfill the basic requirements, fuel will run you $300-$400 for your training alone.

Plus, your flight school is running a business that has operation and overhead costs. So, it would be pretty nice if they could make a little bit of money.

On top of all that, you’ve never flown a hot air balloon before! So it’s nice to have a little insurance in case you break something. No hard feelings, right?

Just like training, it should make you feel more comfortable to know that your equipment actually costs money. No one wants the discount envelope that only has a few tears in it.

Associated Costs

I know you’re anxious to learn how you can bridge the gap between reality and the dream, but we just need to cover one more aspect of reality: associated costs.

I don’t know how you choose to budget, but I keep a very meticulous spreadsheet of all my income and expenditures. Plus, I have a debt calculator (thanks college), and also use an app that keeps me on top of my finances.

Being this up to date on my finances has two me two things: 1) I fight less with my wife when I can prove where our money went and 2) the number one budget killer is what I call “associated costs”.

These are the tiny purchases that you were so small you didn’t even think about them and never found their way onto your budget. This is like your slushie from the gas station, the batteries you didn’t realize you needed, etc.

Because they never made it onto your budget, and since these small expenses add up over time, these costs will eventually kill your budget. As of 2019, most Americans don’t even have $400 in savings.

So you can see why going over budget could be such a massive problem. Below, we’ll cover some “associated costs” (the silent killers) so you can factor them into your budget.

Travel

The first, and perhaps most obvious, the associated cost is travel. When it comes to training to become a hot air balloon pilot, you can’t exactly just pop into your backyard to practice flying.

Normally, you’ll have to travel to a flight school that is likely far away from where you live. In fact, based on the number of flight schools in the U.S., I’d be willing to bet you live several hours from your closest flight school.

So, if you have to travel 2 hours every Saturday to your flight school and then 2 hours back home at the end of the day, you can imagine how travel costs will start to add up.

I like to use this little tool to calculate trip costs: Fuel Cost Calculator. Using this calculator, you can easily figure out how much you should budget for your travel!

Food, Clothes, and Friends

On top of travel, there are three other associated costs you should consider. They are food, clothes, and friends. The first one is pretty self-explanatory, but the other two might require some time.

You know when you’re driving down the highway and you see a billboard for Panda Express and you just have to get some? Need I say more about food expenses?

Now, in terms of clothes and friends. You may be surprised to know that you might need different clothes for hot air ballooning. You’ll also likely be pleasantly surprised to find that you’ll make friends ballooning.

If you’re wondering about what to wear hot air ballooning, look no further! Here is an incredibly helpful article that will answer all your questions.

Of course, once you make friends ballooning, you’ll start spending time with those friends outside of ballooning. That might mean trips to the mall, the bar, or the movies. Each of those costs money.

Between food, friends, and clothes, odds are you’ll end up with some “associated costs”. Being aware of these costs can help you be prepared when you make your budget!

Getting Your Own Balloon

Now let’s move into how to bridge the gap between reality and your dream! One way to make your dreams your reality is to buy your very own hot air balloon!

This may sound more like the dream than bridging the gap, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? Plus, if you’ve already decided to rent your own equipment, you can go ahead and just skip this section!

If you are interested in getting your own hot air balloon, good for you! This is a huge step forward in accomplishing your dream of becoming a hot air balloon pilot!

There is a lot to know before buying a hot air balloon. If you want a good look at some of the best places to buy a hot air balloon, click here. If you want to learn about some actual balloons, click here!

Outside of knowing about balloons before you buy one, you should also know there are a lot of perks that go along with owning a hot air balloon. This is especially true if you’re training to become a hot air balloon pilot!

First, we’ll look at some of the perks. This will give you a look into “why” you should buy a hot air balloon. Then we’ll cover some of the things you should know before you buy so you get the right balloon!

Perks Of Owning A Balloon

Owning your own balloon for pilot training is great. There are a lot of reasons you should follow this path if you can afford it!

First of all, the balloon you practice in will be the balloon you’ll be flying in once you have your license! This means you’ll be familiar with all of its quirks and details!

A lot of people get their license and then buy a hot air balloon. This is fine, it just means you’ll have to get used to a new balloon once you’re finished with your training!

Plus, if you own your balloon, you can go for a flight the very same day you get your license! I don’t care who you are, that’s just cool! Definitely a super big perk!

There’s also the half perk of not paying for renting equipment. Of course, you’ll pay a lot more to own a hot air balloon. The biggest difference is that you get to take your equipment home at the end of the day!

Maybe the biggest perk of owning a hot air balloon is that it’s really cool. How many people do you know that own a hot air balloon? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Getting the Right Balloon

Now, what do you need to know about buying the right hot air balloon? Well, the first thing you should know is that hot air balloons are expensive. They’re as expensive (and often more expensive) than most cars.

Getting a used hot air balloon normally runs between $10,000 and $20,000. If you want a new one, you’re looking at between $30,000 and $40,000. And that’s on the conservative side!

You could easily spend $75,000+ on a nice hot air balloon.

The next thing to know is that there are different kinds of envelopes and baskets built for different things. Odds are you don’t need a massive envelope that generates enough lift to carry 18 people.

With a private pilot’s license, you can’t work as a pilot. That requires a commercial pilot’s license. So, odds are you won’t be carrying very many people at any one time.

The larger the balloon, the more it costs. Also, racing balloons tend to cost more. Look for a practical sporting balloon and you’re almost guaranteed a great cost!

Do your research, and you’ll be sure to find a great balloon. Remember to check out those two articles linked above! They’re full of loads of useful information.

Money and Time

How much money you can spend on becoming a pilot and how you choose to spend that money can really affect the amount of time you spend training to get your license.

The more money you have, the faster the process could go. Money can also make the process go more smoothly overall. These are important points to note as you decide how much money you will invest into this process.

And this is an investment you’re making. You’re putting money into a process that will result in many years of freedom and excitement. This is an investment with a great return!

There are a couple of approaches to choose between when you’re deciding how to invest in this process and how much you want to invest. It’s important to know your options in this regard!

These approaches are like guides that help you cross the gap between your dream and your reality! Below, we’ll discuss two approaches, and then we’ll go into great detail about a third option in the next section.

What approach you choose will greatly affect how much it costs for you to become a licensed hot air balloon pilot!

Buy Everything

Approach number one is to buy everything. When we say everything, we mean everything. This is the approach for those who are interested in buying their very own hot air balloon.

This is by far the fastest approach. Or, perhaps more accurately, this is buy far the fastest approach… Get it?

Anyway, buying everything includes buying your own gear, paying for a premium instructor, and offering so much money to the flight school that you get to pick your own schedule.

Sounds kind of like pie in the sky? Trust me when I tell you that you can definitely be assured of private instruction whenever you want it if you pay enough (weather permitting. Turns out God doesn’t take bribes).

So if you want to get your license fast and you have plenty of money to spend, just buy everything.

Buy The Package Deal

On the off chance that you aren’t worth seven figures, let’s cover approach number two: buy the package deal. This is the most common approach when it comes to getting a pilot’s license.

Getting the package deal means exactly what it sounds like. Most flight schools offer some sort of package deal. Pay of flat rate of x and they provide instruction, gear, and practice test materials.

This approach means you come in on a regular schedule set by the flight school and you’ll probably be training with others. There’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, having classmates can be really fun!

This approach is also really easy to budget for. You pay $400 every visit and you come in twice a month? Easy. Budget $400 every two weeks plus associated costs!

This approach is time tested and is perfect for most. It comes at a fair price and gets you the training you need in a fairly timely manner. This approach is perfect for just about everyone.

But what if you can’t even afford the package deal? Let’s take a look at the third approach below.

Can’t Afford it Right Now?

The third approach is for those who can’t afford to become a licensed pilot right now. If you’ve been overwhelmed this whole time because you just can’t afford training right now, this is the section for you!

First off, it’s totally okay if you can’t afford to become a hot air balloon pilot right now. It certainly isn’t a cheap process, so there’s no shame in needing a little time.

Secondly, there are things you can do right now to prepare to become a hot air balloon pilot! In fact, you begin crossing the gap between reality and your dream today no matter where you’re at financially!

This third approach is called “do what you can when you can”. It’s kind of like the hodgepodge approach to becoming a hot air balloon pilot, and it can be the most rewarding of the three approaches!

Let’s take a closer look!

Get Started

The first step in the “do what you can when you can” approach is just getting started. There are several activities that you can do that will help you get started.

In fact, you’re doing a get started activity right now! You’re researching how to become a hot air balloon pilot! That really is step one in any process, and especially in this one.

There is tons of informational material online about hot air balloons and becoming a hot air balloon pilot. Here at Outdoor Troop, we have over 30 articles focused at answering questions about hot air balloons and becoming a hot air balloon pilot!

Another major step you can take is volunteering to be a crew member for a hot air balloon. Pilot’s aren’t the only people involved in getting a hot air balloon in the air. There are also several crew members!

These crew members help with take-off, chase, and landing. As a crew member, you’ll learn tons about hot air balloons and meet lots of hot air balloon pilots!

If you’re interested in becoming a crew member, this brief video will give you a look into how you can make that happen as you prepare to become a hot air balloon pilot:

Raising Capital

Step two in this approach raising capital. Remember that we talked about how whatever you spend on becoming a hot air balloon pilot is an investment. Investments require capital, and you’re in charge of raising that capital!

Raising capital is just a fancy word for making money. Lucky for you, in the good ol’ U.S.A. there are basically unlimited ways to make money! And a lot of them don’t involve working 9 to 5!

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with working an honest day job. Working an honest day job is how this article was created! So if that’s your plan, then go for it!

There are also an unlimited number of “side hustles” out there that will help you raise the capital you need to see your dream become a reality! Do some research and then get hustlin’!

It’s important that you don’t just make money, but that you actually save money. There’s a huge difference between the two. Open a savings account, make a budget, and hold yourself accountable!

Between getting started and raising capital, you’ll have your pilot’s license before you know it!

Opportunity Cost

The final thing to consider when you’re looking at how much it will cost to become a hot air balloon pilot is the opportunity cost. This cost might be the most important factor of all.

Opportunity cost is an economics term that refers to what you could have spent your money on. So if you spent $5 on a hot dog, the opportunity cost is that you could’ve spent $5 buying toothpaste.

I love opportunity cost because it really puts what you’re buying into perspective. I also just love “what if” scenarios in general!

In all seriousness, this is a great way to determine whether or not you really want to spend your money on this. It really answers the question: “how much does it cost to become a hot air balloon pilot?”.

It could cost you much more than just money. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the things you could spend your money on other than becoming a hot air balloon pilot.

We’ll go ahead and assume that it takes $4,000 to become a hot air balloon pilot. As we’ve already discussed, it could cost a little more or a little less than that, but $4,000 is a good middle number.

We’ll also look into why you’d want to get that item. Just equating prices isn’t enough, you have to have a really good reason to get something else!

Without further ado, let’s look at what you could buy with $4,000 dollars that isn’t a pilot’s license!

The Contenders

Item number one is a picture and autograph of Abraham Lincoln! That’s right, for the cost of getting a hot air balloon pilot’s license, you could be the proud owner of our 16th President’s signature!

Why would you want this item? Well, because it’s really cool. Plus, it probably makes a really great conversation piece. Maybe you could hang it in your theater room?

Our next item is a brand new engagement ring! This ring is made of 14K white gold, and has a hunking 1.5 carat oval cut diamond right in the middle! Now that’s nice!

Obviously, this ring is meant for proposing. However, what if you just felt like treating yourself? According to my wife, diamonds are a woman’s best friend!

Our third and final item is a 4C Carbon full suspension mountain bike! This beauty is ready for just about any trail you might want to fly down at dangerously high speeds!

I can’t quite figure out why anyone would want this bike as compared to the leisure of flying. The whole biking thing makes me feel two tired… Biking is for cycle-paths… man these puns are wheelie terrible…

I guess if you ask me, there’s nothing better to spend your money on than becoming a hot air balloon pilot!

John Adams

I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and I've been all over the place since my childhood. I love everything outdoors related. The more adrenaline involved, the better. Hot ballooning is my passion!

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