U.S. Senators Ted Budd, a Republican from North Carolina, and Arizona’s Mark Kelly, a Democrat, announced March 15 they have introduced legislation that will enable the government to monitor and identify high-altitude balloons operating in the nation’s airspace.
Budd and Kelly put forth the SOAR Act following a flurry of U.S. military interventions last month with flying objects in the skies above the nation. (SOAR Act is the short form of Seeing Objects at Altitude Regularly Act.)
A U.S. Air Force fighter shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, what was later determined to be a Chinese spy balloon. The balloon had traveled from Alaska over Canada and then across the continental United States before being intercepted.
China maintains the object that the United States shot down was a weather balloon that had traveled off course.
U.S. military fighter jets soon shot down three more flying objects, all of which remain unidentified, on Feb. 10 above the waters off Alaska, Feb. 11 over the Canadian Yukon territory that borders Alaska, and Feb. 12 over Lake Huron near Michigan.
Budd and Kelly are particularly concerned about surveillance balloons.
“The recent shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the skies over our country for more than a week highlights the immediate need for the FAA to re-evaluate how we track objects flying over American airspace,” said Budd in a statement that he and Kelly jointly released.
Kelly said, “At a time when our adversaries are using hostile surveillance tactics, there is no reason why our country should have to wonder whether an object in our airspace is a threat, weather balloon, or science project.”
The senators may be considered a particularly appropriate lawmaking tandem to take on sky, national security, and safety matters.
Mark Kelly is a decorated Navy combat fighter pilot and astronaut who spent more than 50 days in space and commanded the Space Shuttle Endeavor on its final mission.
Ted Budd is a licensed private airplane pilot.
A provision of the SOAR Act calls on the FAA to create the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), composed of members from the aviation industry, including aviation experts and representatives from the Department of Defense. The ARC would develop and make recommendations to assist the FAA in updating, improving, and introducing new regulations the FAA uses to track and identify high-altitude balloons.
The SOAR Act requires that, within two years, any high-altitude balloon traveling and positioned higher than 10,000 feet above sea level must have tracking technology that sends and emits data on the balloon’s altitude, identity, and location.
The legislation also directs the FAA to coordinate and work with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICASO) to “develop equivalent standards for high-altitude balloons launched elsewhere in the world.”