‘Twas the night before…hey, wait a minnit!

December 19, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

The night before

At the Air Safety Institute, we are well known for post-accident “armchair piloting.” There is pontification and speculation on what can be learned– because in each accident is a tragedy and a lesson.

With Santa Claus, however, we’re a little flummoxed. He has a perfect piloting record: no ASRS reports, no violations, and nothing in the NTSB database that we’ve discovered.

His Air Safety Institute transcript did reveal that perhaps his perfect record is largely due to ongoing safety education:

Santa is thriving and doing it safely, but would more regulation strangle his operation?  He does his homework (how else would he know you wanted a new iPad Mini?), and operates within the legal framework (Part 91) for his operation.

All that said, the upcoming annual flight got us wondering about some of his skills and equipment. All of these are questions, and some obstacles, that face nearly every GA pilot. How does he cope with these? If you’re looking for answers in this blog post, we don’t have any. But if you have any other questions, we encourage you to add to our list:

  • Is Santa a “through the fence” operation?
  • Is he paying user fees in those other countries where they charge for such things?
  • Is the sleigh FIKI certified and does reindeer exhaust serve as an anti-ice system?
  • Does eApis apply?
  • Would Santa be intercepted for busting a TFR if NORAD is already tracking him?
  • Should Santa subscribe to AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services for the medical benefits (as an aging pilot)? He’ll definitely need legal services.
  • North Pole takeoffs must be over gross weight, so has he ever been ramp-checked?
  • Since Santa only flies once a year, is that enough to maintain proficiency, especially for a long night cross-country? When was his last IPC?
  • The sleigh was certified without an electrical system…it’s been around a while. So how is Rudolph’s nose as an anti-collision light powered? Is there a 337 form for the mod?
  • How does one calculate fuel reserves when it’s measured in hay bales per hour?
  • Has he implemented ADS-B, or is he waiting for manufacturers to lower their prices a bit?
  • Could Santa be replaced by a UAS, and would the old guy get the same kick out of flying?

Add to the list in comments below, and the best entry (one per pilot) will win a fabulous prize—decision of the judges is final. (Submission deadline is midnight EST on Sunday, Dec. 23.)

In closing, remember that Santa represents the best in GA flight operations—perfect safety and a professional attitude! This trip could not take place on the airlines—getting all the toy sacks through security alone would take days, the connecting flights would invariably be delayed this time of year (assuming he could even get a seat), and the rental car bill would dwarf the size of the federal deficit! GA is the ultimate time machine for people who want /need time-effective, point-to-point transportation!

Reflect on what GA means to you and on the challenges facing our continued freedom to fly. We hope you will consider a tax-deductible contribution this year to help us keep our skies free and safe, our airports open, and work to help more people join the wonderful ranks of GA pilots.

From the entire AOPA Foundation team, we wish you and yours a happy, safe, and memorable holiday season.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz  |  Support the AOPA Foundation

  • Philip Rash

    Is Santa required to file a FRZ flightplan (with appropriate TSA-issued PIN) for visiting those houses that are close DC?

  • Andrew Kalat

    I wonder if Santa would trigger a TCAS alert.

  • http://tracyreed.org Tracy Reed

    No ASRS reports? How could we possibly know that? It’s anonymous!

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Tracy —

    Good point but there might be some giveaways – a multi-reindeered aircraft in the type block might be one? If Santa were Flying a Cessna or a PA28 he would easily hidden but …
    Thanks for your note.

  • Richard Jacobs

    How does Santa deal with pilot fatigue?

  • Richard Jacobs

    How does Santa deal with pilot fatigue?

  • Gabe

    Is Santa RVSM certified?

  • Wayne Schneider

    Does his magical abilities – “put his finger aside his nose and up the chimney he rose” – require a medical waiver.

    And speaking of medical issues, how does he keep all the cookies he must eat from affecting his blood pressure?

  • Nanji Chandra

    Does Santa’s sleigh need a new 406 MHz ELT in parts of the Caribbean?

    Has Santa made the switch to a Mode S Transponder?

    How does Santa feel about his new touch screen GTN 750 he got for Christmas last year in Arctic turbulence?

    Is Former FAA Administrator Babbit on the Naughty or Nice list now after the acquittal?

    Does Santa have to file the new ICAO format flight plans or does he get away with the old FAA format?

    Does Santa use a special Ram mount for his iPad?

    Rudolph has a red nose – Is Santa going t get a green nosed reindeer – Greendolph perhaps – so he has the right position lighting for night flight?

    Santa never seems to fly straight and level – its always a wave like flight path. Are those pilot induced oscillations?

    Santa has a short time window to get everywhere in generally bad weather. Has he ever busted minimums?

  • Don Desfosse

    Thank goodness for Santa, the North Pole isn’t under the jurisdiction of the FAA, so none of these concerns matter…. to him…. 😉

  • Chris

    Given his delivery route and timeframe I can only assume that he exceeding the 250 knot speed limit below 10k and he must be well above the speed of sound I have these questions:

    Did he get a waiver for the excess speeds?

    Are reindeer the secret to eliminating sonic booms in supersonic flight?

  • http://www.aopa.org/asf Bruce Landsberg

    Great questions, everyone – keep ’em coming. The “fabulous” prize opportunity ends Sunday evening and we’ll all be enlightened by magic of S. Claus and his annual flight!

  • David Bowman

    How does he take off and land on those short and angled runways? He must have STOL on his sleigh. That may answer the take off and landings but the angles hmm.

  • Stefano perer

    I volonteer to performe the maintenance to his sled and engines at its nearest FBO anytime. I’m the president of FLAPA (flight lunatics almost pilot association)
    Merry Christmass to all of you.

  • Robert Chapin

    Is Santa required to carry flotation equipment for flight over water?

  • Barrett

    Will Santa have to see a sleep specialist about potentially undiagnosed sleep apnea, or will he cut back on cookies to lower his BMI?

  • David Widmer

    Being our club’s Safety Officer, I thank you for the Alert regarding “Plane Spotter – More Rapid Than Eagles”. I have sent the Alert to our club members as my first Safety Officer’s Report for 2014, with caution that we need to be on the alert from this date (December 20th) in 2013, should there be any occurrences before the New Year – one never knows!!
    Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year, I remain (Safely) Yours,
    David N. Widmer, Flight Time Safety Officer
    P.S.: Kudos to AOPA for its support of General Aviation!! We’d be in deep trouble if it weren’t for you and your work!