Sens. Kelly, Budd Introduce Bipartisan SOAR Act to Strengthen National Security, Secure U.S. Airspace

The bill’s introduction follows the recent incidents of unknown aerial objects shot down by U.S. fighter jets which included one Chinese surveillance balloon

Today, United States Senators Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) introduced the SOAR Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that high-altitude balloons operating in United States airspace can be tracked and identified. Kelly and Budd’s legislation follows 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. 

“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. Our common-sense legislation will give our military the tools needed to identify threats more quickly and efficiently, while providing more certainty to good faith operators of high-altitude balloons. I welcome Senator Budd’s partnership on this safety and national security issue,” said Senator Kelly who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

“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. Examining more efficient means for tracking the identity and location of aircraft is not only critical to maintaining safety in our skies, but it’s also a matter of national security. I am pleased to join Senator Kelly in this important effort,” said Senator 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 10,000 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, 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