Kelly and Budd’s SOAR Act to Protect U.S. Airspace Set to Become Law

Today, the SOAR Act—bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Ted Budd (R-NC) in 2023 to ensure that high-altitude balloons operating in United States airspace can be tracked and identified—is set to become law after the House of Representatives approved it as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. After the Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization last week, the package now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature. 

Kelly and Budd’s SOAR Act followed 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. It mandates the FAA to develop regulations requiring all high-altitude balloons to be equipped with a system which tracks their altitude, location, and identity and reports that data to air traffic control.   

“As a former Navy combat pilot, I know well the importance of protecting our nation’s airspace,” said Kelly, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chair of the Airland Subcommittee. “I’m thrilled that this bipartisan effort will soon become law and strengthen our national security by equipping our military with the necessary tools to identify and respond to potential threats swiftly and effectively, making our skies safer.” 

“In order to better protect America’s skies, we must improve how we track and identify objects flying over U.S. airspace. That is exactly what the SOAR Act will do. I am pleased that Senator Kelly and I were able to get this important piece of legislation included in the FAA Reauthorization bill and that it will soon be 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 will 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 10,000 feet above sea level be equipped with a tracking system that will transmit the balloon’s altitude, identity, and location.  
  • 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, 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. 

Read the full text of the bill here