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Practicalities of Santa’s epic flight!

by SFO Barbara McKay BALPA member

It’s that time of year when the man in the big red suit saddles up the reindeer for the most mammoth of flights. It is a cargo service that only operates once a year and is a single pilot op, so it’s a good thing that Santa has his own brand of magic to help him get past the many laws of the air that would prevent another pilot from attempting such a major flight plan. 

How Father Christmas gets past the many aviation laws is a little bit of Christmas magic. But, like anyone who takes to the skies, even Santa has to have the right licences. He was first issued an aeroplane pilot's licence by the US Assistant Secretary of Commerce in 1927. Since then many regulators, especially in the North have claimed they’ve issued licences for him. You can see he renewed his licence and passed a medical in Canada and was handed his licence by Transport Minister Marc Garneau in this video

So, he has his licence… but could he manage the job in an aircraft if Rudolph was out of action? 

It would certainly be a struggle… 

Firstly, technology would play a part. As yet, there is no passenger jet that can circumnavigate the globe without refuelling, so he’d have to make a fair few stops around the world. With a bit of luck and a prevailing wind, it could possibly be done with two refuelling stops. Then there is the problem of carrying all those gifts. Santa would have to go for an aircraft that could carry lots of cargo and still maintain a good range. It would probably be the A380, the A350 has a very long range, but can’t carry so many presents. The B777 is pretty good too, but again, not so many people or presents!

A further struggle would be where to land it for present drops. I don’t think most homes are designed for an A380 to land on the roof and there are no helicopters that would come close when it comes to range and cargo capacity. 

So, Santa would have to rely on a bit of magic to make the aircraft do the job intended. And even if he did manage to conjure up the perfect vertical take-off cargo plane, there are then the flight time limitation rules to worry about. Even the most creative schedulers would be unable to find a way to enable a duty that involved a single pilot operation lasting for 24 hours!  

Realistically, Santa would need lots of helpers, probably around three sets of four crew to allow for adequate in-flight rest and ensure Santa operates safely. 

So, while Santa may have his pilot’s licence, it’s a good thing Santa has his sleigh and some good old-fashioned magic. 

He also has the assistance of pilots around the globe and air traffic controllers who make sure they keep their eyes peeled for his special flight on the 24th to ensure he makes his gift drops safely. Often Christmas crews will get in to the spirit of things by dressing in festive attire and urging all the children on board to keep a look out for the sleigh. 

I think it’s safe to say that because Santa flies, all be it with a helping of Christmas magic, he is certainly “one of us”, although which Airline Pilots Association he is a member of is a hotly contested issue… particularly in northern countries!