Buy A Hot Air Balloon

A Guide To Buying A Hot Air Balloon: New and Used Hot Air Balloons For Sale

Buy a hot air balloon
Buy a hot air balloon

The dream of soaring through the skies in a hot air balloon captivates many, but transitioning from dream to reality requires a significant decision: choosing the right balloon. Whether you’re a budding enthusiast or planning a commercial hot air balloon ride venture, understanding the nuances of buying a new or used hot air balloon is crucial. This guide aims to navigate you through this exhilarating process. To get started, you’ll need to make the investment in a balloon and a vehicle for your ground crew to chase you in! We’ll help you understand the different hot air balloon manufacturers, the average used hot air balloon costs, where to find used hot air balloons for sale, and how to price a used hot air balloon.

Exploring Hot Air Balloon Rental Options: What You Need to Know

When it comes to experiencing the thrill of hot air ballooning, you might wonder if it’s possible to rent a balloon, similar to how you might rent a car or an airplane. The world of hot air ballooning, however, operates quite differently.

Renting a Balloon for a Passenger Experience

If you want to enjoy the experience as a passenger, you can rent a hot air balloon ride. This typically involves hiring a balloon that comes with a qualified pilot. It’s a popular option for those who wish to enjoy the serene beauty of ballooning without the responsibilities of piloting the balloon themselves. To find the best balloon ride operators in your area, the best is to do a Google search for “hot air balloon ride in Seattle (or your city)”. Of course the most beautiful place to fly in the world is in Seattle in front of Mt. Rainier.

buy a hot air balloon
How much is the cost of hot air balloon ride

Renting a Balloon for Personal Piloting: A Different Scenario

On the other hand, if you’re an aspiring pilot or a balloon enthusiast looking to fly a balloon yourself, the options are more limited. Unlike airplanes, hot air balloons are generally not available for personal rental. This is largely due to the unique operational and maintenance requirements of hot air balloons, as well as the specific skill set needed to pilot them.

Pathways to Piloting a Hot Air Balloon

So, how can you get behind the burners of a hot air balloon? There are a few pathways:

  1. Purchasing Your Own Balloon: The most straightforward way to get into hot air ballooning is by buying your own balloon. This option gives you the freedom to fly whenever you wish, but it also comes with the responsibility of maintaining and storing the balloon.
  2. Balloon Training Schools: For those who are serious about learning to pilot a balloon but are not ready to purchase one, attending a balloon training school is an excellent choice. These schools provide comprehensive training, and you’ll fly in the school’s balloons as part of your education. 
  3. Trading Crew Hours for Flying Hours: Another unique aspect of the ballooning community is the opportunity to trade crew hours for flying hours. This involves volunteering as ground crew for experienced pilots. In exchange, many pilots are willing to offer training or flying time. It’s a great way to learn the ropes and immerse yourself in the ballooning culture.

New vs. Used Balloons: A Pilot’s Dilemma

Hot air balloon pilots, otherwise known as Aeronauts, often face the dilemma of choosing between a new and a used hot air balloon. New balloons offer the latest technology and customization options but come with a higher price tag. Conversely, used balloons are more affordable but require careful assessment of their condition and history. Ultimately, if you have a commercial pilot training you, they’ll steer you toward the manufacturers that they are most comfortable flying themselves.

Lifespan Of Balloons and Manufacturers: Knowing Your Options

Hot air balloon envelopes typically have a lifespan of around 600 to 1000 flight hours, though this can vary based on maintenance and usage. The bottom end, which consists of the basket, burners, tanks, and accessories, can last decades.  When considering manufacturers, you have several reputable options:

Kubicek Balloons
Kubicek Balloons
  • Kubicek Balloons: Kubicek Balloons, established in 1991 and based in Brno, Czech Republic, stands out in the global market as a unique manufacturer of hot-air balloons and airships. This company distinguishes itself by being the sole balloon manufacturer worldwide that not only produces its own fabric but also pioneered this material specifically for hot air balloon applications. Their commitment to innovation and quality is evident in their product’s global distribution, all originating from their Brno factory. Kubicek Balloons ensures the highest standards of safety and compliance, as evidenced by the EASA Type Certificate awarded to all their models. This certification guarantees that each balloon, including their special shapes, meets rigorous safety criteria and is accompanied by a Standard Airworthiness certificate and registration.

    What truly sets Kubicek Balloons apart is the superior quality of their proprietary fabric. Unlike conventional nylon, their fabric is integrated with advanced features during the manufacturing process. This results in a material that not only exhibits enhanced longevity but also possesses superior resistance to mold and mildew. Additionally, it has improved dirt-repellent properties and maintains its vibrant colors and aesthetic appeal for a longer duration. This combination of innovation, quality, and aesthetic appeal makes Kubicek Balloons a distinguished name in the world of hot-air balloon manufacturing.
  • Cameron Balloons: Founded in 1971 by Don Cameron in Bristol, England, Cameron Balloons has established itself as a leading manufacturer of hot air balloons, fabric structures, and lighter-than-air aircraft. Renowned for its innovation and quality, the company has been at the forefront of aerostatics since its inception. Operating from its Bristol headquarters, Cameron Balloons is celebrated for its diverse product range and commitment to advancing balloon and airship technology. This dedication has solidified its reputation as a key player in the industry, continually pushing the boundaries of lighter-than-air flight.
  • Lindstrand Balloons: Lindstrand Balloons, a prominent name in the world of aerostatics, offers an extensive range of hot air balloons and airships, catering to various needs with their standard and special shapes, racing models, and more. Their expertise extends to producing high-quality components, including hot-air balloon baskets, burners, and advertising balloons, showcasing their versatility in the field.

    A key division of the company, Lindstrand Balloons USA, specializes in crafting hot air balloons tailored for commercial, competitive, and recreational flying. This division gained notable recognition for developing the innovative X-Series balloon in 2003, a model that has since become a significant player in the competitive landscape of US ballooning. The X-Series’ introduction and sustained success underscore Lindstrand Balloons USA’s commitment to innovation and excellence in balloon technology.
  • Ultramagic: Ultramagic Balloons excels in the aerostatics field, offering a diverse range of hot air balloons for competitive, recreational, and advertising purposes. Renowned for their commitment to innovation and quality, they produce not only a variety of balloon designs but also high-quality components. Ultramagic’s dedication to evolving technology and reliable performance makes them a preferred choice among balloon enthusiasts and professionals globally.
  • Aerostar and Firefly (Used Only): These are good options in the used market, known for their historical value and unique designs.
  • Other Manufacturers: There are smaller balloon manufacturers in the US and worldwide.  The hot air balloon manufacturers listed above are the largest and most renowned.

Choosing The Right Size Hot Air Balloon

The balloon portion of the aircraft is called the envelope and the gondola is called the basket or bottom end. The size of the balloon is dictated by your intended use. Solo flights or small groups typically require a 77k to 105k cubic foot balloon, ideal for learning and costing between $45k-$65k new (for a full system). Balloon baskets can come in different shapes and sizes. Firefly uses a triangle basket where as all the other manufactures use rectangle basket.  

Size of hot air balloons
Size of hot air balloons

For commercial balloon ride operations, larger balloons starting at 85k are necessary, with prices increasing with size, reaching up to $175k. As a commercial hot air balloon operator, it is important to have ballooning equipment in excellent condition range to accommodate the varying needs of commercial operations, from carrying more passengers to ensuring higher safety standards. 

In addition to standard balloons, there are also special shape balloons, and racers used in hot air balloon competitions. Special shape balloons, designed to resemble specific figures or objects, offer a unique flying experience and are often used for advertising or entertainment purposes. On the other hand, Racers are designed for performance and speed, catering to the competitive spirit of balloon pilots in various balloon competitions.

Customization: The Art of Balloon Design

New hot air balloons are customizable, allowing you to choose from 250-300 fabric panels for a unique design. Special cuts and prints can add to the cost. Many balloon buyers also select to get custom wicker colors during the basket weaving process. This personalization of fabric and wicker is a significant draw for new balloon buyers. 

Balloon Design Seattle Ballooning
Balloon Design Seattle Ballooning

The Used Balloon Market: A Treasure Trove with Caveats

The used balloon market offers a range of options, from vintage models to nearly new ones. However, it’s advisable to avoid balloons made before 1992 due to outdated technology. Look for balloons with a parachute vent, avoiding older designs like pop tops or Velcro tops. Raven and Piccard models, though interesting, are better suited for experienced pilots mainly for exhibition due to their antiquated systems.

Finding Used Hot Air Balloons For Sale: Tips and Tricks

To find used balloons, explore online platforms like the Facebook group “Hot Air Balloon Equipment for Sale” or contact hot air balloon repair stations for insider information on off-market deals. Firefly balloons, often the most affordable, are simple to assemble and operate, with polyester fabric that withstands higher temperatures. However, their unique design may limit your training options. Not all instructors are familiar with Firefly models, and finding a qualified instructor might be more challenging. Additionally, your balloon size is crucial, especially in higher altitude areas. Smaller balloons may struggle with lift, limiting practical training sessions. Balloons in the 77k to 105k cubic foot range are often ideal for training, offering sufficient lift without being overly challenging for new pilots.

Used Hot air balloon for sale
Used Hot air balloon for sale

Used Hot Air Balloon Pricing: A Mathematical Approach

To determine the value of a used balloon, divide the original price of the envelope by 600 (the average guaranteed hours) to find the hourly depreciation. Subtract the hourly depreciation total from the original cost to get the current value of the balloon envelope. Add the cost of the basket, burners, and tanks to estimate the total value. A well-maintained balloon built after 2003 with under 300 hours can range from $12k to $25k. If the balloon is older than 15 years old, deduct 10% off its calculated value for each additional year to account for wear and tear/ and outdated equipment.

Embarking on Your Ballooning Journey

Buying a hot air balloon, whether new or used, is a journey filled with excitement and decisions. By understanding the market, assessing your needs, and being informed about the technical aspects, you can make a choice that elevates your ballooning experience to new heights. Remember, the sky is not just a destination; it’s a new beginning.

Additional Costs

Embarking on the adventure of hot air ballooning involves more than just the purchase of the balloon itself. Prospective balloon owners should be aware of several additional costs that are integral to the ballooning experience. Firstly, a suitable vehicle is essential for chasing and towing the balloon. This typically means investing in a truck equipped with a liftgate or an SUV capable of hauling a trailer. These vehicles are necessary to transport the balloon, its basket, and related equipment to launch and landing sites. Next, fuel costs cannot be overlooked. Both the propane needed for the balloon and the gasoline for the chase vehicle contribute to ongoing operational expenses. Liability insurance is another crucial consideration. Ballooning, like any aviation activity, comes with inherent risks, and adequate insurance coverage is vital for protecting both the pilot and passengers. Additionally, there are annual maintenance costs. Hot air balloons require a yearly inspection, known as an annual, to ensure they are safe and airworthy. This inspection and any necessary repairs can vary in cost depending on the balloon’s condition and usage. These additional expenses – vehicle, fuel, insurance, and maintenance – are important factors to consider when budgeting for the total cost of owning and operating a hot air balloon.

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Eliav C.
About the Author

Chief pilot of Seattle Ballooning. I get the opportunity to provide luxury hot air balloon rides just South of Seattle in front of Mt. Rainier. When you do what you love, it’s not considered work.

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