Australia’s only hot air balloon factory sends mammoth vessels globally

Hot air balloons are a lavish way to see the scenery around Australia and the rest of the word.

And chances are, if you've flown in one either here or overseas, it was made at Australia's only hot air balloon factory.

The family firm is nestled in a far from luxurious industrial unit in Sydney's north, from where it makes and ships balloons as far afield as Africa, where they are used for safaris.

Kavanagh Balloons

Phil Kavanagh, 75, set the Kavanagh Balloons up in 1979 after getting involved with the creations via Sydney University Balloon Club.

And while has been planning to retire for a while and hand the company over to son Sean, he's still at the helm.

And he has kept count of how many balloons he and his team has crafted over the decades – just over 600.

They've recently made one in Aussie department store David Jones' distinctive houndstooth design, which made a splash on social media.

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Then there's the quirky Hendrick's Gin balloon and another dubbed 'a love letter to Melbourne' adorned with hundreds of inspiring messages post pandemic.

They've also been involved with the Easter Show, providing the high-flying balloon.

But he's casual about his high-flying firm.

Kavanagh Balloons is Australia's only hot air balloon factory.

"It's like any other job in the end," he said.

"People do really interesting things that just aren't very public- ballooning is a really visual thing."

Sean added that making the mammoth beasts "is not as romantic as it sounds".

"The reality is, its manufacturing in Australia which is hard at the best of times, he said.

"The flip side is when we actually finish a product and say 'wow, look at that'."

COVID-19 hit the firm in a big way.

While they were still working, hold-ups in the supply chain have caused issues.

For example, fabric to make the mammoth canopies, as much about 2000 square metres for one canopy or the size of eight tennis courts, usually comes from South Africa.

But for now they have to buy the cloth, which is sewn together on a machine from Europe.

Of course the canopy is paired with a basket, hand crafted by staff member James Williams.

Kavanagh Balloons is Australia's only hot air balloon factory.

And the burner is made by an Aussie firm in Malaysia.

The company recently made one for the largest balloon in Australia, which can hold 24 people.

The NSW Hunter Valley and Cairns are some spots to climb aboard those.

It takes eight weeks to make a typical balloon.

And when he's not making balloons, Sean is flying them.

He's heading to the Ballooning World Championships in Slovenia in a few months.

He has previously come 30th in the contest, and is a former Australian world champion.

Hot air balloons over Lake Burley Griffin during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular festival in Canberra.

Competitive ballooning involves various challenges involving navigating to a series of targets.

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Kavanagh Balloons

Results can come down to just centimeters.

"It's complicated, it's a lot of navigation work, a lot of understanding the micrometeorology of the area," Kavanagh said.

A hot air balloon in Kenya

"Most women have got a better touch for it than guys – it's a multi-tasking sport, it's very subtle, it's easy to over do it."

And once Sean does finally take over, he has two little balloon makers waiting in the wings.

His children, aged nine and seven, already like to visit the factory, in Mount Kuring-Gai.

"They're always here, any chance they get in here climbing in and out of baskets," he said.

"Whether or not they'll come into it, I've no idea."

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