UK balloon pilots license

This page gives an indication of the legal requirements you need to fulfil to obtain a Balloon Pilots Licence and an indication of the steps required to succeed in completing those requirements and becoming a balloon pilot.

Licence Requirements

A hot air balloon is a registered aircraft, the same as any fixed wing aircraft or helicopter. As such the person in command must hold a valid Private Pilot's Licence issued by the Civil Aviation Authority specifically for ballooning; this is known as the PPL(B).

Although anyone with average ability can fulfil the requirements for the PPL(B) outlined below, it is not an activity to be taken lightly. As a pilot you must be sufficiently competent at operating the balloon and have such knowledge to be able to cope with any problems or circumstances that may arise. In addition you will be responsible for the lives of the people you might carry in the basket.

PPL requirements

  • Minimum flying experience of 16 hours within 24 months.

  • A minimum of 6 flights

  • A minimum of 4 flights with a British Balloon and Airship Club (BBAC) approved Instructor; the rest may be with any valid PPL(B)

  • To keep a flight log with flight training records completed by the instructing pilot.

  • To keep a BBAC training log; this is a requirement of the BBAC not the CAA.

  • To be recommended by a BBAC approved Instructor for a flight test.

  • To undertake a flight test examination with a CAA approved Examiner.

  • Perform a solo flight under the supervision of the Examiner or an instructor delegated by the Examiner.

  • Take written examination in Aviation Law, Navigation, Meteorology, Balloon Systems and Human Performance.

  • Medical declaration of fitness signed by your GP. Some GPs will require an examination.
    Attend an approved Landowner Relations Seminar.

  • Complete the written examinations and flight test within a 24 month period.

Do not be daunted, the standard required is based on common sense, not academic brilliance!

Commercial Balloon Licences

There are two types of commercial balloon licences: CPL(B) Restricted and CPL(B) (Full).

The CPL(B) Restricted is required if you are undertaking work for a sponsor or being paid by an external agent to operate a balloon. You can fly a sponsored balloon with everything paid for with a PPL but as soon as the sponsor asks you to attend any event then you need a CPL(B) Restricted.


CPL(B) Restricted Licence requirements:

  • Class 3 Medical Certificate

  • 35 hours flight time in balloons to include 15 hours of instruction as pilot of balloons, 4 free flights (one to above 5,000ft) and 2 tethered flights. 20 hours as P1, of which 16 must be free flights (one with the landing at least 20km from the launch point) and 2 tethered flights.

  • General Flight Test with a CAA recognised examiner

  • Ground examinations To be passed in Aviation law, flight rules and procedures, meteorology, navigation, aircraft (general): balloons, and aircraft (type).

The CPL(B) is required if you are flying passengers for money or even if your sponsor wants you to fly people for him. The balloon then needs a transport category C of A (certificate of air worthiness). If you are only flying sponsor's guests, and not charging money for flying other passengers, you are exempted from holding an AOC (air operator's certificate) though you do require a copy of it. For passenger flying the balloon also requires a maintenance log.

CPL(B) Licence requirements:

  • Class 2 medical certificate.

  • A minimum of 75 hours as pilot in balloons. This must include the minimum's identified for CPL(B) restricted in addition to not less than 60 hours as P1.

  • General Flight Test with a CAA recognised examiner

  • Ground examinations as for CPL(B) restricted

Steps to becoming a balloon pilot

The licence you will be aiming for is called a PPL(B) which, stands for a Private Pilot's Licence (Balloons), until you are in possession of the licence documentation, passed all the theoretical exams, completed the flight training and practical examinations you are known as a PUT which is abbreviation for Pilot under Training.

Training in the UK

(For training in any other country please contact information@bbac.org for a contact in that country who will be pleased to assist you.)

From 1st December 2003, unless you hold a current FCL150 (a/b) Medical Form, you need a NPPL Medical Declaration signed by your GP to ensure that you are fit to learn to fly. These are available from the CAA (PPL(B) Medicals).

  • Have a passenger flight - this checks that you will enjoy it before you commit time, energy and money to becoming a Pilot.

  • Check the BBAC flight information page for further information.

  • Join The BBAC.

  • Join your local BBAC affiliated region.

  • Link up with local pilots (remember you will need help from these guys with flying time, socially and also with practical arrangements such as refuelling)

  • Order your red Pilot Log Book and your BBAC Training Log Book. The red one is a requirement by law and has to be kept for 2 years after the date of the last entry! The (usually) green spiral bound small BBAC Training Log Book is a training record and is a BBAC requirement.

  • BBAC members may order these from information@bbac.org  or call the Information number on the contacts page if you wish to pay by credit card.

  • Do a BBAC Landowner Relations course! As a member of the BBAC you also need to do the one day course which trains balloonists to respect the countryside, to ensure continued good communication between Farmers and Balloonists and to be made aware or our rights in UK law. Courses are held by the regions and publicised on the BBAC Forum and in Pilots' Circular.

  • Read the PPL(B) syllabus - the list of information that you need to obtain and revise for your practical and theoretical tests is in the BBAC Training Manual, which also contains heaps of other useful information and practice questions.

  • BBAC members may order this from information@bbac.org or call the Information number on the contacts page if you wish to pay by credit card.

  • Get about 10 to 12 hours flight time and about 2-3 BBAC Instructor flights. Lists of instructors are available to BBAC members on the website.

  • Learn at your local BBAC Regional Club

  • Learn at a Balloon School in the UK - see Aerostat for further details

  • Learn abroad at a designated Balloon School - see Aerostat for further details

  • Buy the recommended text books - see Ballooning Books & aviation charts from pilot shops.

Also get from the pilot shops

  • A ruler will the scales of (statute miles / kilometres and nautical miles)

  • OS 1:50000 Landranger maps - learn the legend - all the symbols and be able to navigate accurately from it from the air and ground - practice in the car!

  • A protractor - you will have to calculate speed distance time and accurately pin-point where you are on either an ICAO half million air chart or an OS Landranger map!

  • Compass rose is useful when flying in a balloon to assist with navigation

  • Use the syllabus & Pilot Training Log as the framework to ensure you revise everything you need to know for the theoretical examinations.
    Go on a regional BBAC or manufacturer's PPL revision course.

  • You will be provided with a FCL100 application for the PPL(B) form which will have all the theoretical examination results filled in once your course is complete.

  • This form needs to be taken and given to your examiner for your practical flight test (known as your check flight) and your solo test flight.

Once you have done this then you have 'checked out'!

You have to then send your completed FCL100 form, a cheque for around 200 and your log book by registered post to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).
Get some toys! Marked-up maps from a BBAC Approved Map Marking Service, gadgets and flight bags &c

Form a syndicate - get like-minded friends together and buy a balloon together as a club - make sure you have agreed a code of conduct for your club so that no-one inadvertently breaks the rules... e.g. who would be responsible for refuelling after the flight? How would you share the bills?

or

Buy your own balloon. Many people prefer this way as they have sole control over it all!

If you want to further your PPL(B) then there are heaps of possibilities:

BBAC Records and Badge Schemes
National Records
International Records
Competition Flying both for fun and at National and International level
Fire and First Aid Courses
RT (Radiotelephony) Courses
CPL(B) Examinations and Courses
BBAC Instructor Ratings
BBAC Examiner Ratings