Santa's flight crew licence

Before Santa Claus can once again take to the air, he has to fulfil the minimum requirements for a pilot. The annual medical examination is performed in good time during the autumn. In the sight test, his prescription for reading glasses is renewed. The hearing test goes well, because in Santa’s home at Korvatunturi there isn’t any workplace noise at all – no matter what his helpers happen to be working on. Old Santa’s ECG looks just fine, even though he’s over the 65 years’ age limit and his body mass index is much too high. I wonder what special exemption allows Santa to fly? In addition, the Aviation Authority has been very kind in granting Santa a Class I medical certificate to fly without a younger colleague.

Then the annual theory training is next. After some revision, Santa is ready to sit tests on the Christmas Operations Manual, the Reindeer & Sleigh Flight Crew OPS Manual and the Route Manual, and to answer questions on air law, flight procedures, principles of flight, human performance, meteorology and transport of hazardous materials. Santa’s official English-language test certificate is still valid, so this year he can skip that.

Then it’s on to emergency training and checking. Evacuating a sleigh in an emergency is fairly easy, so Santa focuses on a very important issue at Christmas – fire safety. After checking the smoke alarm, he practises using the fire extinguisher and smoke hood, and goes through resuscitation and first aid procedures. It’s also good to revise how to summon assistance to the scene, if necessary. Use of life jackets is rehearsed. For someone who has lived all his life in Lapland, rehearsing survival in the wilds is mainly a formality, but Santa carefully checks that the locator beacon is working OK. He has never had to use it before – and hopefully not this Christmas, either.

Next it’s time to go through route and aerodrome specialities. Once again a few changes have taken place during the year. Obligatory subjects are operating in Arctic areas and North Atlantic operating procedures. During this stage, the air resounds with abbreviations such as RVSM, RNAV, MNPS etc. For difficult landing areas, of which Santa has more than enough to visit, the most important details are studied. Landings on narrow roofs are practised on a EASA Standard D sleigh simulator. At the same time, it’s good to practise one’s skills in situations where one or more of the reindeers is not performing optimally. Christmas flying in low visibility is also practised in the simulator.

Then it’s time for a check ride. With the aid of the sleigh simulator, a host of helper-examiners check Santa’s ability to fly in both normal and emergency situations. The simulator can be programmed with various scenarios, such a reindeer stumbling during takeoff or sleigh runner failing during landing. After several hours’ hard work, Santa is certified as having passed the text and is given his flight crew licence. At the same time, he receives an instrument flight rating valid for six months and is attested fit to fly in low visibility. But even at this stage Santa is still not ready to take the reins of his low-emission sleigh. Even though Santa’s flight log has well over the required 1,500 flying hours, helper-instructors make an FAM, i.e. familiarisation, flight with a fully load sleigh. After this, Santa can breath a sigh of relief – this year, once again, he’ll make the trip.

The rest of us can start to raise our gaze to the heavens in the chance of catching a glimpse of Rudolf’s shiny red nose.

Wishing you a safe Christmas!