A suspected Chinese spy balloon currently above the US resulted in an hours-long grounding of commercial flights in a swath of airspace at least 200 miles long, according to a new statement from the Billings, Montana, airport and a source familiar with the situation.
“On Wednesday, Feb. 1, a Ground Stop was issued that stretched from Helena to Billings and it lasted approximately two hours from around 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” said Billings Logan International Airport's Assistant Director of Aviation and Transit Shane Ketterling. “Since the Ground Stop was lifted, there have not been any more issues or delays.”
A source familiar with the situation told CNN that the ground stop was for Department of Defense activity.
During a briefing with reporters Thursday, a senior defense official said “we wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area” in case the military decided to shoot down the balloon.
The Federal Aviation Administration, whose control over airspace ends at 60,000 feet above sea level, declined to comment.
On Friday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said during a briefing that the balloon is assessed to be at about 60,000 feet above the ground.
The Billings airport said the flight impacts were minimal because of what time it happened.
“The Ground Stop happened mid-afternoon when Billings Logan International Airport has very few flights. A total of three flights experienced delays; two inbound flights were diverted and arrived in Billings late, and an outbound United Airlines flight was also delayed,” the statement said.