There are news reports that China had sent a balloon over the USA. Some say it is reconnaissance and some say it is a weather balloon.

Has China broken any US or international laws, such as spying or trespassing?

  • Probably more appropriately asked in the POLITICS topic area. This has more to do with treaties and such than law.
    – jwh20
    Feb 4, 2023 at 14:24
  • Is all this proven, or isn't it just a media campaign?
    – user48542
    Feb 4, 2023 at 21:28
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    @jwh20 although there might be some overlap, questions about a Treaty seem to be on topic here
    – user35069
    Feb 4, 2023 at 21:38
  • @jwh20 By my understanding of the law a balloon at say 5000 ft would violate US airspace but the current ballon at 60000 ft aparently is not. Definitely a question about the details of law.
    – quarague
    Feb 5, 2023 at 18:19
  • You probably meant to ask “Has the owner of the balloon broken any laws?” You cannot sue an entire nation, only individuals. Mar 9 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


First, it is highly unlikely that it would remain continuously exactly at 60,000 feet. I mention this because that altitude happens to be the boundary between Class "A" airspace, and Class "E". (see graphic below)

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Class A airspace is the domain of a lot of commercial air traffic, so the FAA regulates it closely. Specific requirements for aircraft can be found in 14 CFR 91.135.

If no prior coordination was made with FAA Air Traffic Controllers, and no clearance was explicitly given, the balloon would be in violation of this regulation at a minimum.

Presuming it would drift above 60,000', it would still be in Class E airspace, which the FAA has jurisdiction over, even if the flight requirements are less stringent.

Specific requirements for balloons can be found in 14 CFR Subpart D, 101.33, 101.35, 101.37, and 101.39. Presuming the Chinese did not comply, it would also be in violation of these sections.

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    Since balloons in high atmosphere Class E airspace have reduced reporting requirements, could the firm that launched the balloon have filed the appropriate paperwork on time?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Feb 7, 2023 at 2:28
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    @M.Y.Zuo, conceivably, not sure though... Feb 7, 2023 at 3:04

It is assumed that the balloon is at "about 60000 ft", which defines the upper boundary of US-regulated airspace, thus it is "uncontrolled" w.r.t. FAA regulations. There is no international law limiting vertical sovereignty. Thus there is no prohibition against intercepting the balloon.

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    So this means that China is not breaking any laws or treaties, but if the US intercepted it or shot it down, the US would not be breaking any law either?
    – Someone
    Feb 4, 2023 at 16:42
  • @Someone the US would destroy a Chinese government property, and create a political/diplomatic incident , but most likely not a legal one
    – Trish
    Feb 4, 2023 at 16:55
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    US airspace above FL600 is Class E, not uncontrolled Class G and not outside FAA authority. The FAA provides ATC services above FL600, it’s just that VFR flight is allowed without a clearance.
    – cpast
    Feb 4, 2023 at 17:00
  • During the Cold War, the US did try to set the precedent that balloon overflights of the Soviet Union were acceptable with Project Mogul.
    – o.m.
    Feb 4, 2023 at 18:20
  • This remembers me of Bertrand Piccard's second Breitling Orbiter flight, which he had to abort because China refused to allow him to pass.
    – PMF
    Feb 4, 2023 at 21:45

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