Kelly and Budd’s SOAR Act, Legislation to Ensure Tracking and Identification of High-Altitude Balloons, Passes Committee

Today, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly and North Carolina Senator Ted Budd’s SOAR Act that ensures high-altitude balloons operating in United States airspace can be tracked and identified passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee—a key step towards becoming law. The bill was included and passed with small technical changes as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act.   

Kelly and Budd introduced the SOAR Act in March of 2023 following the federal government’s response to four unknown aerial objects over North America, including one Chinese surveillance balloon, which were shot down by U.S. fighter jets.    

“We need to be able to identify whether objects in our airspace are a threat or not, and now we’re one step closer to getting that done,” said Kelly. “I’m glad to be partnering with Senator Budd on this, and we’ll keep working to get it passed into law and implemented.”  

“In order to better protect our nation’s skies, we must do a better job of tracking and identifying objects flying over American airspace. That is exactly what the SOAR Act seeks to do. I am pleased we were able to get this important piece of legislation included in the FAA Reauthorization bill and look forward to working with Senator Kelly going forward to get it across the finish line and signed into law,” said Budd

While high-altitude balloons are utilized for a variety of purposes, like forecasting the weather, imaging, conducting science experiments, and testing new technologies, Kelly and Budd’s legislation would ensure that the U.S. military can quickly and efficiently differentiate between threats and authorized objects in our airspace. The bipartisan SOAR Act will:  

  • Require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue, within two years, new regulations to require that all high-altitude balloons operating 18,000 feet above sea level be equipped with a tracking system that will transmit the balloon’s altitude, identity, and location.   
  • Also require the FAA to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop equivalent standards for high-altitude balloons launched elsewhere in the world.  
  • Direct the FAA to establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) made up of industry, aviation safety experts, researchers, educators, and representatives from the Department of Defense and other federal agencies which conduct high-altitude balloon operations. The ARC must issue recommendations for how best to update existing FAA regulations to track high-altitude balloons, which will be used by the FAA to issue new regulations to identify and locate high-altitude balloons.  

Click here for a complete summary of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act.  

Click here for the full bill text.