Today at the Waystation of Thought-Tries, we ask: What would it take to start a hot air balloon business — what would that look like, and how quickly could I turn that into passive income? So here it is: The Case for Starting a Balloon Company.
The biggest thing would be getting trained as a balloonist. This article says you need about 20 hours of airtime, which means probably a few months, and about $5,000. I think ideally this could be ventured by finding one of my dad’s pilot buddys and cutting a deal with them to get the training ~ any licensed pilot can train new pilots. Really though it’s not rocket science to get a commercial balloon license. Any airhead could do this.
Keep in mind, once you have this license, you can tell anyone you meet that you are a professional Balloonist. And it will be true.
Used balloons are surprisingly not expensive. New ones and custom ones of course are. I found a used one on ebay for under 4k. But whatever, even if it was 10k or 20k, the first year is simply about breaking even.
Balloonist insurance runs about $1,500/year.
Typical baskets carry 8 people; 7 customers and 1 pilot.
I’m assuming a ticket is $150-$200.
That means a full flight (2 hours? 90 minutes?) nets you about $1400.
If a balloon does 30 full flights a year, that’s $42,000.
Propane fuel costs about $60/flight.That means convincing 210 people a year to pay for a balloon ride.
“Ballooniversity.edu” is a domain you can purchase for $160.
Now let’s get serious about the viability here.
I think it is viable to say that 30 full flights at $200/person (or some variation of this leading to more or less the same number) is a reasonable expectation.
Revenue: $42,0000 = ($200/ticket * 7 tickets * 30 flights)
Expenses: (balloon [4k); insurance [1.5k]; fuel [1.8k]; flight school [5k]) = 12k (rounding up).
Keep in mind most of these expenses are one-time first-year expenses. This is 30k that you have to break even.
Now the question is how much of the cut of $30k does the pilot take? $300/flight? $400? How much to pay someone with a truck to be the pick-up crew?
I don’t know how much pilots make. But I’d propose two things: 1) I bet I could convince my dad to become a pilot, and do this as part of his retirement; 2) I bet any two reasonable guys with a truck and a van would take $50 dollars to drive to meet a balloon, wherever it might land. That’s $3,000 per 30 flights.
I wonder if it would be possible to negotiate contracts that essentially say: I pay for your flight school ($5k; or my dad trains you, or I train you), and you return that favor by committing to 30 flights in one year (and yes, you also get paid for each of those 30 flights). I think a lot of people would see that as a really good deal. I would.
If you had two balloons, you could be working with 60k.
If you had three balloons, you could be working with 90k.
The first balloon must be named “Uppity.”
I remind you, dear reader, that this should be passive income within one year.
Designing a simple but efficient website is it’s own expense, and I’d argue that, if you want your balloon business to be passive income (i.e., you want it to run itself), the critical question is how many balloons do you need running to be able to afford a balloon-manager? Could this person also be a pilot? I’m not sure.
But take a moment to consider being able to make the following statement in total honesty:
I am a balloon manager.
What would that do for your tinder profile?
This makes me reflect on the importance of pilots. Obviously anyone who wants to become a professional balloonist should keep a couple things in mind. First is that it’s not a full-time job, it’s a gig. You go up in a balloon with some folks for an hourish a few times a year, and you come down with $300. Or $400. I’m spitballing that number. But what great supplemental income! The second thing is you have got to be a bit of a performer. You point out the landmarks, you tell stories, make balloon puns, you got to entertain those folks up there in your basket. You got to be a bit of a basketcase.
Think of the commitment a balloonist makes to sunsets. And sunrises, why not. Don’t you want to be the sort of person who is committed to slipping the surly bonds of earth as many sunsets as possible?
Who could be uncheered with a balloon?