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Balloon Ride Business - How To Set Up A Balloon Ride Operation

Aug 17, 2007
Where to base your balloon ride: this is the most important factor to consider at the planning stage. Either you base your balloon ride near to a large population centre, with access to the countryside, or you base it in a more isolated area which has a steady stream of tourists passing through it. Where ever you base your balloon ride business, make sure you have access to a steady stream of customers. Africa, Australia, Central and South America, Middle East and Asia -- these places have endless spots of tourist interest, and many operators set up around sites of stunning natural beauty. However, other operators around the world base their balloon ride operations within an hour or so of a city, and you can even fly over some cities, for example, Prague, Stockholm, or Bristol. The weather is of course a factor, and the more reliable the better. You also need to ensure that you have enough landing sites to allow for wind in all directions. You will need to check the air traffic regulations for your proposed area to be sure that balloon ride flights are allowed.

Balloon ride equipment: this is the second most important factor to consider in your planning. Your basket will be made out of wicker to allow for flexibility in the event of a bumpy landing. You can get baskets in 'single T', where the pilot is at one end of the basket, or 'double T', where the pilot is in the middle of the basket with passengers either side. The 'double T' is the preference of most pilots and operators since it allows for more even weight distribution and ease of passenger supervision. Woven floor baskets are light and are designed for small-medium size balloons. With bigger balloons, you will need a basket with solid floors to give some rigidity. There are a number of products on the market, allowing for different configurations of passenger layout. Larger baskets have doors and allow for wheelchair access. Do your research, have manufacturers send you brochures and ask other operators for their views on baskets.

The balloon itself is known as the 'envelope', and these are increasingly built of Hyperlast, an exceptionally tough UV resistant fabric. Such envelopes can have a sky life of up to 800 hours. Larger envelopes give greater stability during flight and allow for a greater travel distance, since they act like sails and catch the wind to a greater extent than smaller envelopes. However, larger envelopes are more cumbersome to handle on the ground which means you may need a bigger crew to handle them. How big you go all depends on you -- but be aware of the consequences of your decision.

Which burner you choose depends on two factors, the size of the envelope, and the operating conditions. You will need to research whether you need a triple or quad burner. If you are going to operate in an area of some noise sensitivity then look into buying a stealth burner as part of a multi-burner unit. If you are operating in a hot country then look into a 'Shadow' or 'Sirocco', both of which ensure better comfort for your balloon ride passengers.

You will also need to think about deflation systems. There are reversible quick deflation systems on the market but be aware that there is quick and quick. Some are not nearly as quick as others. Therefore, in all instances, get the supplier to give you a demo of the deflation system. Again, read up on your subject and speak with experienced operators before you buy.

Road vehicle and trailer: as the balloon crosses the sky, you'll need four wheels tracking it on the ground so that the ground crew can meet the balloon in which ever field or open area the balloon ride ends up. This vehicle will then need to ferry the passengers back to your operations base - which could be some considerable distance away. The eight to twelve seat Land Rover Defender gets the thumbs up from many balloon ride operators, though also consider the Toyota Landcruiser, and the VW Syncro microbus. Of course, there are other vehicles on the market but the ones listed are very popular with balloon ride operators. You will also need a flatbed trailer, which should have small wheels below the truckbed. Also consider getting a winch or crane to assist with loading and unloading.

Other hardware: consider how you are going to record bookings. Some balloon ride operators use a telephone booking system, and/or a computer reservation program. Others have the whole operation sub-contracted to a travel agent.

Pilot: you can contract a pilot on a long term or seasonal basis. Again, do your research as to what terms are reasonable and exactly what paper qualifications the pilot should have if, say, the pilot is from the USA, Australia or the UK. Regulatory systems vary but for sure your pilot will need a licence. Accept no excuses and ask to see the licence as evidence of qualification. Look for a pilot with about 5 years experience - they will know what they are doing.

Ground crew: how many ground crew you will need all depends on the size of your envelope, and on the overall size of your operation. The ground crew does not require formal training, but your pilot will normally work out a program of instruction if requested. In any event, your ground crew must know what they are doing.

Licensing of the balloon ride business: the point to make here is that regulatory systems around the world vary, so you need to do thorough local legal research. For example, in the UK, the balloons, the operators and the pilots all require approval for public transport operations. However, other countries have less stringent requirements in relation to some of these aspects of the business. Make sure you know the rules that will be applicable to the different elements of your business in the area in which you intend to operate. Contact the national aviation authority, or similar body, for the country in which you wish to base your balloon ride operation.

Legal obligations and insurance: if your passengers are paying for a balloon ride in your balloon then you will have a contractual duty to look after their safety, and, depending on the jurisdiction, you may also have a 'duty of care' operating in law outside the contract. There may even be public health regulations, or similar, applicable to your balloon ride operation. Again, do your research on the local law, consult a lawyer, and find out about the necessary level of insurance cover. By way of example, for the UK, you should be looking at cover of around 2,000,000.

Book keeping and accounts: you will need to keep a record in a ledger or computer system of all income receipts and expenses. All expenses incurred in connection with the your balloon ride business will be deductible to tax, including wages, advertising, transport, literature, agent commissions. You will only pay tax on that part of your income that is left after expenses have been paid. You will need to file some sort of tax return, so consider retaining an accountant.

If you do decide to take a business to the air and set up a commercial balloon ride operation then keep the above points in mind. I wish you all the best with your business.
About the Author
Stephen Turner has set up http://www.rideballoon.co.uk where you'll find balloon ride information and advice, articles, features, discussion and specially chosen links.
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