Hot Air Balloon Pilot

What do you do for a living?

I am an international hot air balloon and thermal airship pilot working most recently in the UK, Burma, Tanzania, Turkey and Canada but having also flown in Spain, USA, Italy, France and Germany (to name but a few)


How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?

I worked as ground crew at Glasgow airport and was invited to take a flight in the company hot air balloon.  I  enjoyed it so much the pilot, who was leaving the company, suggested they give me the balloon and I find somebody to teach me to get my pilots licence.


What was your journey to reach the role you are in today? (talk perhaps about education/choices/university, college, training or apprenticeships/ CPD or professional exams/job progression)

I left school with very few qualifications and got a job at the airport working as ground crew.  After that first flight I found a pilot willing to teach me and I studied for my pilots exams including air law and navigation, meteorological studies as well as the technical aspects of ballooning.  Once I qualified as a private pilot I built my hours flying in Scotland, throughout the UK and overseas in Italy.

I became qualified as a commercial pilot after gaining the requisite number of flying hours and was offered a job as pilot for a Hot Air Ballooning company in Skipton, North Yorkshire flying the general public.

After a year with the firm in Skipton I decided to set up my own operation in Scotland and over a number of years built it up to become the largest Hot Air Balloon operator in the north of Britain, before downsizing and moving into corporate sponsorship.

A few years ago I suffered a bout of extreme ill health and with the family made the decision to fulfil a lifetimes ambition to fly an overseas contract.  My first job was 5 months of flying in Tanzania living and working in a national park with elephants, zebra, lions and giraffes.  This was followed by 5 months flying balloons in Turkey before moving on for 3 months to fly in Canada.  I spent the last part of 2012 working in Burma, flying balloons over the many temples.  I am returning to Burma again in October 2013 for 3-4 months.

Whilst ballooning I have also qualified to fly Thermal Airships.   Whilst balloonists are a rare breed it is a fact that there are more astronauts in the world than there are Airship Pilots.


Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?

Whilst in the UK I will drive to an event, such as the London Marathon, tether the balloon ensuring it gains as much publicity for my client as possible before packing up and returning home.  If I'm flying I'll set up at an event, meet and greet the clients, fly for an hour and return them safely to the launch site.

Whilst overseas I am woken at 5am by my crew, driven to the take off site where my balloon has already been inflated and the guests collected.  I step in to the balloon, fly for one hour, showing the passengers the sites before landing.  Once landed I am then driven back to my accommodation for some breakfast after which I am free for the rest of the day.  Generally speaking I am finished by 9am and can enjoy my time either going on Safari drives (Tanzania), visiting temples or sunbathing by the private pool (Burma) or going for motorbike rides into the Rockies (Canada).

Being a balloon pilot overseas is an incredible privilege.  Pilots are treated extremely well with a very high standard of living.  The camaraderie with colleagues, both crew and other pilots makes for a very enjoyable time away from home. 

Because I have so many free hours and have gained many contacts within the Media I have been able to come up with TV Show formats leading to discussions with production companies both in the UK and the US.  This is something that Scotair Global Ltd will be building on in 2013/2014.


Was it your planned career when you were 18?

No, for many years I was in a band as a drummer and it was my dream to make it big in the music industry.  We came close but as the saying goes 'close but no cigar'


What did your mum and dad want you to do?

They didn't mind.  They were very supportive of my wish to make it in the music industry and supported my decision to become a pilot with equal gusto.


What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Come and speak to me. 


What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?

I wouldn't have it any other way.  I am one of the very lucky few to be offered contracts in some of the most beautiful parts of the world with the best companies in the world.