Discovering How Hot Air Balloons are Made in Avonmouth, UK
We spent Sunday crossing over from France to the United Kingdom arriving to Avonmouth, the port city of Bristol, on Monday morning. A point of clarification: England is part of Great Britain. Great Britain is made up of England, Scotland, and Wales. While the United Kingdom is made up of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
We crossed the English Channel and if you look at a map of all ships in that area, it would make you think we were on the 405 freeway at rush hour in Los Angeles. Apparently, it is well orchestrated as we hardly saw other vessels near us.
On Tuesday we joined an onshore “experience” to visit a hot air balloon factory along with a hot air balloon/dinner flight.
First, let us say there was a profound change in the weather in crossing over from France. It is now about 50 degrees in the morning with clouds and a stiff breeze compared to mid-60s and sunny in France.
We left the Ship knowing that our factory tour was on, but our balloon ride would depend on the weather later in the day. We arrived to the Cameron Balloons Company which is housed in a large and very old building in Bristol.
Our tour guide, Jake, is salesman for this family owned business.
What a fascinating tour. They make about 100 “rigs” per year. A rig includes the basket, burners, and the envelope (the balloon canvas). We calculated this to be about 10 million in revenue with employment of about 50 people.
A small rig sells for about $70,000 with larger rigs selling for $150,000 and up. They make some balloons used for sightseeing that will hold anywhere from 24 to 36 people depending on the size of the basket. We saw them putting the finishing touches on a 15-meter-long basket (about 50 feet).
They do everything from designing the balloon, to procuring the canvas, cutting and sewing along with assembling the burners.
The wicker baskets are woven of cane or willow and procured from a subcontractor.
They do the finishing touches and install the rigging and burner equipment. It was fascinating and very colorful with every imaginable color of canvas stored and waiting for the right customer. We were not allowed to take pictures on the sewing room level due to proprietary procedures, but we did enjoy walking amongst the huge and colorful pieces of “envelopes” in various stages of assembly.
One must have a pilot’s license to fly a balloon which takes approximately 30+ flying hours to achieve. Sadly, the winds were too brisk for us to fly and we were told they will try to make it happen on Thursday if the weather cooperates.
Anyway, we had a nice tour and learned a lot about hot air balloons!