Sherrill Leads Bipartisan Effort to Secure Our Skies

Sherrill Leads Bipartisan Effort to Secure Our Skies

 

Washington, DC – Today, as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) successfully advanced her Balloon Location Identification Pronouncement Study (BLIPS) Act. Her amendment, which was adopted by the full House, increases coordination between the FAA and the Department of Defense (DOD) to better track unmanned, free-flying balloons in American airspace. This proposal will help to increase real-time awareness for air traffic controllers and homeland security professionals, improving flight safety and our military’s readiness.

 

“Earlier this year, we saw unmarked, foreign objects enter our skies, which threatened our national security and interrupted national travel. Beyond these incidents, hundreds of balloons are released into our skies each day to track the weather and test innovative defense equipment. As a former Navy helicopter pilot, I know the risks these objects can pose to aviators as they embark on either military or commercial travel. My amendment gives air traffic controllers and aviation professionals the information they need to fly safely and I am proud to have secured it in the House’s FAA Reauthorization bill,” said Rep. Sherrill.

 

This amendment was included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 FAA Reauthorization Act which was considered and passed today by the full House of Representatives. Rep. Sherrill advocated for her amendment during the House Rules Committee review of the bill.

 

Read Rep. Sherrill’s full testimony to the House Rules Committee below:

 

I submit this testimony before the Committee requesting consideration of my bipartisan amendment committing the FAA to produce a study on strengthening the safety of our skies and lessening the burden on our air traffic control and homeland defense personnel. In addition to bipartisan interest, this amendment was written in coordination with the FAA and was positively reviewed by U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, who said they would benefit from the study deliverable and associated FAA consultations.

 

Hundreds of unmanned, free-flying balloons are launched from American soil each day. These balloons test new aerospace payloads, track the weather, or provide for hobbyist enjoyment. They also frequently operate at flight levels where military and civil aviation occurs, which can cause obvious endangerments, as well as flight delays and additional stress on our air traffic control personnel who must not only help land planes, but concurrently decipher radar “blips” to assess what they are, where they are going, and potential national security concerns.

 

It is easier and cheaper to launch these types of balloons and as we saw earlier this year, in times of heightened global tensions, our aviation security personnel are not afraid to react to unknown blips on a radar screen. With NORAD attesting they have fine-tuned their systems to better pick up these potential threats, we can probably expect to see more defense resources used to track and assess these balloons. With each response, this adds undue stress onto our air traffic control system and burns critical defense resources meant to protect the homeland.

 

This amendment seeks to have the FAA, from a national and homeland security perspective, study and report on previous incidents regarding unmanned free-flying balloons, how they affected airspace operations, and to consider–if feasible–how to boost civil and, if necessary, homeland defender awareness of where these unmanned balloons are in flight at any given time via onboard electronic emissions. 

 

Additionally, this amendment tasks the FAA to survey the industry and hobbyist community for best practices so as not to overburden users who are already good stewards of our airspace. Lastly, this proposal charges the FAA to consider how it would collect and use any emitters placed on the balloons to boost real-time air traffic control awareness. We do not want to saddle the growth or burgeoning user community with non-feasible requirements and we certainly want to make sure that any solution produces data that the FAA and our national security specialists can actually use.

 

Already, hot air balloons and commercial unmanned aerial systems are required to have electronic emitters onboard during flight. This bipartisan amendment simply studies the gap in the lack of non-emission requirements for unmanned free-flying balloons so that Congress and our airspace control enterprise can commit to an honest debate based on thorough analysis before seeing if each airborne object over American skies should actively emit their altitude and location.

 

I thank the T&I and Rules Committees for accepting this testimony and considering this common-sense bipartisan proposal that could make all of our flight experiences safer.

 

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