Chinese spy balloon takedown triggers Senate legislation on tracking

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Two senators have introduced a bill following the incident of the Chinese spy balloon that passed over U.S. airspace last month to increase tracking of high-altitude balloons throughout the country.

Sens. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) announced in a release Wednesday that they had introduced legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create regulations mandating that all high-altitude balloons operating 10,000 feet above sea level have a tracking system that would provide the balloon’s altitude, identity and location.

The bill would also require the FAA to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency that supports international cooperation in air transport, to create equivalent standards for high-altitude balloons launched from the rest of the world.

“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,” Budd said.

The balloon, which China claimed as its own but said was a weather balloon that was blown off course by wind, traveled across the continental U.S. for several days before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

Biden administration officials said they decided against shooting the balloon down sooner based on concerns that falling debris could hurt people on the ground. But they said they took actions to limit the balloon’s ability to conduct surveillance.

“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,” Budd said.

Kelly added that the “common-sense legislation” will give the U.S. military the tools it needs to identify threats more quickly and efficiently and provide “good-faith operators” of these balloons more confidence.

“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,” Kelly said.

The U.S. also shot down a few other balloons in the aftermath of the Chinese one that President Biden later said the intelligence community determined were likely tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions. Officials had said they shot these balloons down because they were flying near the altitude of commercial airplanes and could have posed a safety risk.

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