Have you ever wondered what the world might look like from way up in the clouds? For Andrew Parker, floating along on the wind and seeing planet earth from above is not a fantasy, but a way of life. Andrew works as a hot-air balloon pilot, spending his days flying around the world to share his passion with others. When he was 26, Andrew founded a project called Flying High for Kids, which aims to inspire children in underprivileged areas and countries to achieve their dreams and create global connections. Would you like to find out what it’s like to be sky-high? Let’s go up, up and away…
What’s the coolest thing about your job?
Being able to explore the world and meet lots of people with whom I can share my passion!
What’s it like to fly in a balloon?
The best way to describe it is like floating on a cloud. The balloon travels with the wind so you can’t feel any vibration from an engine, and you have to pay attention to your surroundings – it’s a very natural experience.
Tell us a little bit about your typical day at work
Through my project Flying High for Kids, I spend a lot of time flying to different countries to talk to kids about following their dreams, and different potential career paths they may not otherwise have considered. I go into their classrooms and tell them about my own story – I try and communicate to them to dream big, that nothing is impossible. The kids I speak to often come from very underprivileged backgrounds, but I don’t believe this should limit what they can achieve.
Of course, I have to earn money to fund the project, so I use my love of ballooning to run commercial flights in places like Dubai and Turkey, which then allows me to take the balloon to these kids. As you can imagine, transporting and flying a hot-air balloon around the world comes with challenges, and I spend a lot of my time shipping my balloon from place to place – I am about to send it from Africa to South America! I also have to make sure I know where I am flying and landing my balloon, so I regularly have to check sites, weather, flight permissions, visas and fuel for the balloon and truck.
Whereabouts do you fly the balloon?
It depends on the location of the schools I visit. Some places can be very isolated – especially in parts of Africa. I’ll set off early in the morning, as that is when you get the stable air that makes for a good flight. Sometimes I’ll fly some of the kids up in the balloon, with it tethered to the ground, to give them the sense of a proper flight. I travel with the wind, so at any one time I could travel up to 20 or 30 km, and then I’ll have to find somewhere to land. I never know where I’ll land when I take off, so it’s always an adventure!
How many countries have you flown your balloon in so far?
Through the commercial rides in my balloon and the Flying High for Kids project, I’ve wracked up quite a lot! My first commercial job was in Poland and I had my own balloon company in New Zealand for a while. So far I’ve flown in 70 countries, and I’ll be flying in about 30 more over the next year.
Flying High for Kids runs a postcard writing scheme too – how does that work?
I deliver postcards between children along the route I take the balloon, sort of like a pen-pal system. Through this we’re trying to create a friendly, global community, and make kids in more isolated areas feel more connected.
Did you always want to be a balloon pilot? How did you become one?
I’ve wanted to fly a balloon since I was six years old. I remember the first time I saw a balloon – this giant, coloured ball just silently floating over. That’s what got me hooked on it! I didn’t know I could do it as a job at the time though. I did briefly consider being a meteorologist… and a clown for a while! I saved up some money when I was 11 and went on my first balloon flight. A while after that a balloon landed in my next door neighbours’ field, so I went and chatted to them about it. They were actually members of the local balloon club, which they invited me to join. I started to learn to fly myself when I was 16. I’ve always loved to travel, and whilst learning to fly I got the idea of driving around the world with my balloon and flying it in different places.
What gave you the idea for Flying High for Kids?
I find that see the balloon really engages the kids. When they see the balloon they are already inspired! Balloons are bright and colourful, and have this magic surrounding them. A lot of the people I visit have never seen a balloon before, it draws people from everywhere. I find the balloon helps the message I bring about living your dreams really stick in the minds of the kids.
Do you feel like you’re living out your dreams?
Oh definitely! I always ask the kids what they want to do, and try and show them possible ways they might achieve it, from being doctors and nurses to teachers and pilots. Ballooning is not my job, it’s my passion, and I tell the kids they can make their passion their job too!
Keen to explore the world from above? Check out more amazing travel adventures with our new title Around the World in 50 Ways!