The Canadian government’s transportation department learned about the suspected Chinese spy balloon two days before it became headline news.
“On January 31, 2023, Transport Canada was made aware of the possible presence of a High Altitude Balloon over Western Canada,” a Transport Canada spokesperson told CTVNews.ca.
The same day, an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg reportedly encountered “a large balloon about 4,000 feet (1,200 metres) above them with something hanging from it” while flying over southeastern B.C. The balloon crossed into neighbouring Idaho the same day.
“Transport Canada directed NAV CANADA, the private, not-for-profit corporation responsible for civil air navigation services in Canada, to issue a notice to airmen (NOTAM) that identified the hazard, the affected airspace, and advised aircraft to exercise caution,” the Transport Canada spokesperson explained in a March 2 email. “NOTAM records are maintained by NAV CANADA who is responsible for the collection, evaluation and dissemination of NOTAMs”
CTVNews.ca reached out to Nav Canada for a copy of the so-called NOTAM, but did not receive a reply.
The balloon made international headlines two days later on Feb. 2 as it flew over Montana, home to one of three U.S. nuclear missile silo sites, after U.S. and Canadian defence officials acknowledged its existence.
According to a report in Transport Canada’s online aviation incident database, defence personnel at Norad were notified following the Jan. 31 Air Canada sighting. Transport Canada routinely cautions that such “reports contain preliminary, unconfirmed data which can be subject to change.”
Sixty metres tall, manoeuvrable and with a payload the size of a jet airliner, the suspected Chinese spy balloon traversed North America before a U.S. fighter jet shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4.
China has denied that the balloon was collecting intelligence.
Transport Canada’s March 2 statement came in response to questions posed on Feb. 10 for an article about the Air Canada flight.