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How to Become A Hot Air Balloon Pilot

a hot air balloon ascends at sunset

a hot air balloon ascends at sunset

How to Become A Hot Air Balloon Pilot

While the idea of sailing thousands of feet in the air in a whimsical balloon sounds like a dream come true, only the bravest and most passionate are cut out to learn how to fly a hot air balloon. Not only is hot air balloon pilot training quite costly, but it also demands hours of hard work and studying to gain both experience and expertise. However, these obstacles shouldn’t hold you back from your dream, considering thousands of people have gone before you and succeeded. If you’re serious about breaking into one of the most rewarding aeronautics careers, read on for a rundown on how to become a hot air balloon pilot.

a hot air balloon pilot in training

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Training

Because each Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) piloting license is suited to a different purpose, first consider how you intend to use your hot air ballooning experience before signing up for training. Do you simply want a chance to learn something new and exciting? Do you want to fly for fun just to take family and friends out for rides? Or, do you ultimately want to make it a career? Depending on your end goal, you may want to go for a student, private or commercial license for hot air ballooning.

preparing to launch a hot air balloon

Student License

A student license is for anyone age 14 or older who wishes to learn how to fly a hot air balloon. Everyone must start with a student license before attaining the private license and then the commercial license. To qualify, you must be able to read, write and speak English, and you must not have any medical condition that would interfere with your ability to operate a balloon. To obtain your student license, submit an application via the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application. Once an FAA inspector issues your certification, you are free to start learning how to fly!

Students may not work for hire or take passengers. They may only fly under the supervision of an instructor until they pass a pre-solo test. Students can expect to learn about pre-flight preparations, lift-off and ascent controls, descent and landing controls, emergency situations, how to read weather conditions, the role of temperature, how to work with a ground crew, and more.

a bird's eye view from a hot air balloon basket

Private License

A private license requires everything included in a student license, plus you must be at least 16 years of age. Having learned the basics as a student, you must now complete at least 10 hours of flight time and a minimum of 6 flights under supervision, including one flight reaching 2,000 feet, two one-hour-long flights, and one solo flight. To qualify for a private license, you must pass the written FAA Knowledge Test and the applied Practical Knowledge Test, administered by an FAA flight examiner.

launching a hot air balloon

Commercial License

A commercial license can be obtained once all the provisions of the private license have been met and you are 18 years of age or older. A total of 35 hours of training and piloting is required to qualify for the commercial license. First, pilots must achieve a minimum of 10 hours of flight training, including 10 flights to learn advanced operations. After this, there must be a minimum of 6 more flights: one ascending to 3,000 feet, two lasting at least one hour, two as the commanding pilot, and one solo flight. Finally, pilots must pass a second round of written and flight testing at an advanced level.

aeronautics jobs

Aeronautics Jobs

Once you have completed your hot air balloon pilot training, you’re ready to start searching for aeronautics jobs. You could apply to various enterprises for a paid or volunteer position as a ground crew member. Or, you could jump straight into piloting at a hot air balloon company or even start your own commercial endeavor. Alternatively, FAA-certified pilots can become flight instructors and teach the next generation of hot air balloon enthusiasts. If you’re not interested in any of these aeronautics jobs, you could be quite happy as a hobbyist pilot, taking friends and family out for rides and attending hot air balloon festivals all over the world.


Hot air balloon piloting is as rewarding as it is humbling. It’s magical to watch friends and families make lifelong memories while floating serenely upward into the sky at sunrise. It’s touching to witness a cute couple pop the question over romantic landscapes like the Blue Ridge Mountains.  If you often feel ecstatic about learning how to fly a hot air balloon, it could be your budding aeronautics career calling you to become a hot air balloon pilot. Those who choose this unconventional path often scratch our heads wondering how we got so lucky to call this a career!

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