Become a Certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot in South Africa

Learn to become a hot-air balloon pilot in South Africa with BTS.

Are you ready to experience the magic of soaring high above the African landscape, suspended beneath a vibrant, billowing balloon? At the Balloon Training School in Pretoria, South Africa, we don’t just offer you a ride in the clouds – we offer you a life-changing adventure and an opportunity to become a certified hot air balloon pilot.

One need to be sure about the reasons for becoming a hot air balloon pilot. Is it recreational or commercial? Does ballooning fit your personality?

To fly passengers, you would first require a sport ballooning license in South Africa. Thereafter, you would need to build up experience to fly passengers for gain, minimum 100 pilot hours PIC (pilot in command) are required. Depending on the country you would need to apply for a commercial ballooning license through CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority) to fly commercial (paying) passengers or advertising. We suggest that anyone interested in doing hot air ballooning start out crewing, even before they start training towards a PPL in Hot air ballooning.

How long it takes to train for your PPL would depend on your time and budget restraints, and the availability of an instructor/s to train you. We never recommend a crash course; Ballooning requires a different mindset and verry different from general aviation. Balloons are exposed and reacts directly to the weather that it flies in. Experiencing different kinds of weather conditions that come with the change of season is crucial.

You can easily fly in good conditions, but you need to learn how to cope with marginal conditions or higher winds and that means that you need to be more prepared for the unexpected when it happens - and it does happen! Legislation states that a sport pilot must have 100 hours experience as PIC, before piloting commercial balloons for a register rides company. Flying passengers is completely different to flying a sport balloon, as the passengers ask you questions and chat during flight, there is plenty happening in the basket, so your focus is split. For this reason, flying a balloon must be second nature before you consider carrying passengers, so you are not distracted when faced with the unexpected, with a basket full of passengers. In addition, commercial ballooning requires a change of lifestyle due to the early start. It means the end of late nights and all-nighters, and the end of social evenings over drinks too - there is a 12 hour ‘bottle to throttle’ ruling for pilots.

So, becoming a commercial pilot takes time.

Before training begins, you would need to become a member of an Aviation Recreational Organization (ARO), BAFSA (Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa) and Aeroclub at a cost of around R2500. When you get your student number, training can start. We recommend you do your medical first so that you do not spend money on training to discover you are not medical fit. You would generally get in 1 - 2 hours flight training per week, depending on pilot availability, so you could expect to get your license within about a year. Some pilots are available midweek too, if you are available and prefer to do your training over a shorter time training can take place during the week.

Training would take place in the Johannesburg area by a qualified and registered training pilot, and costs about R80 000. This cost includes the in-flight training and the ground school only, and would be spread over the training period, as the bulk of the cost covers the hire of the balloon, the retrieve crew, and the propane. The aviation medical, radio license, examiner’s fee and cost of the pilot license issued by CAA are excluded from the training costs. This will differ between instructors.

Flight training comes in two parts: practical flying and ground school:
In flight training:
a minimum of 16 hours training in the basket; additional training is required if the instructor decides you are not ready to check out after 16 hours
Ground School:
courses in Navigation, Aerostats, Meteorology, Air law, and Landowner relations, after which there is a written examination
Apart from the successful completion of these two sections, you would also need to complete a restricted radio license and pass a full aviation medical (class 2)
Finally, you would be checked out by an examiner and would qualify as a hot air balloon pilot for sporting purposes (not to fly passengers for reward).

If you have never been ballooning, the first step would be to crew for one of the local sport or commercial balloonists a few times to see if this is really for you. It is a change of lifestyle as well as a sport; flights take place at dawn, so getting up around 04:30 for a flight becomes second nature to those passionate about the sport. If early mornings are not for you, it is better to find out before you go to the expense of paying for pilot training and buying your own balloon.

We would recommend a 90 if you are interested in buying a balloon. BAFSA also have renting options if you would like to go this route. Some pilots my also rent out their balloons. A new 90 would set you back about R350,000 but there are also so second-hand balloons but get a second opinion from a knowledgeable person before you buy. You might decide to build your own balloon.

Contact us for more information.