The End of An Era: FAA Will No Longer Track Santa On Christmas

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A radar scope shows Santa, reindeer, and sled in this 2014 file photo.

(WARRENTON, VIRGINIA) – It’s an aviation tradition that goes back to 1948. While pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, and all other airline personnel are working hard on Christmas Eve, away from their family and friends, each year the Federal Aviation Administration in conjunction with NORAD adds another operational duty to their air traffic controller’s job: track Santa, his reindeer and his sled.

The data obtained from FAA equipment and controllers is then transmitted to NORAD, which broadcasts Santa’s live location to millions of children and families each year on Christmas Eve.

Only this year, that won’t be happening.

“After careful consideration, and in an effort to better adjust to the ever-changing social climate of the world in which we live, we felt it was necessary to stop tracking Santa and his reindeer this Christmas, and for the foreseeable future,” said a spokesperson who wished to remain anonymous. “This will allow everyone to feel included in the holiday season.”

Not only has Santa become controversial, but equipment problems also plague the flights. FAA’s NextGen paradigm requires all aircraft to be ADS-B compliant by 2020. Santa has stated that due to weight restrictions on his sleigh, additional equipment is not possible.

Still, the FAA doesn’t expect to complete NextGen until summer 2315.

“Really, it was just totally inappropriate from the beginning,” said Jason Cole, pilot for Mesa Airlines. “I am not against festivities and traditions of the holiday season, but getting traffic calls for ‘Santa One’, and ‘various four legged flying mammals’ at 33,000 feet after flying 14 hours on near minimum wage and 2 hours of sleep seems a bit unnecessary.”

A flight progress strip of Santa, from 2013.
A flight progress strip of Santa, from 2013.

These feelings seemed to be persistent throughout the industry.

“Finally, the FAA has made a decision since TCAS that I think we all can finally agree with,” said Ashley Sargent, air traffic control supervisor. TCAS is a system that will eventually replace all controllers. “It was simply not appropriate for those who do not wish to partake in such foolishness like a flying Santa. Furthermore, even worse at least with respect to safety, it was just a terrible distraction. We couldn’t allow Santa and his reindeer to be added into a ‘formation flight’, and so here you have controllers dealing with nearly a dozen extra targets on their radars. Really bad idea. Sometimes we even had to split sectors on the mids because of this.”

‘Splitting the sectors’ is a term used in aviation to describe cutting the airspace into smaller chunks for more controllers to work, so as to allow better control over the airspace during heavy periods of traffic and events that cause complexity, like weather, or in this case, Santa.

“It got so bad, we had airspace fixes we only used during Christmas Eve. Like, how does that help anyone?” said one controller who wished to remain anonymous. “The fixes were literally created for Santa.”

The fixes have caused issues with other operationally normal traffic.

“It really screwed me up. I remember back in like 2009, I almost cleared a Southwest jet direct SANTA, VIXEN, and XXMAS’. He was really excited I was finally giving him direct, but then he totally bitched me out on frequency when he realized they were reserved for Santa. I felt like a huge jerk!”

However, while this decision to remove Santa from the air traffic system was praised by many, it was not without controversy.

“This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. I have three little boys at home who have tracked Santa for years. Now what am I going to show them? How do I explain this?” said one concerned citizen. “I guess I’ll go back to singing highly offensive songs like ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ and drinking eggnog.”

Still, other, more diplomatic people, suggested a compromise.

“Personally, I think we should just have a generic holiday themed aircraft, like, HOLIDAY1, or FAMILY2, or something. None of this Santa stuff. It’s just way, way too antiquated in our modern way of thinking. I mean I remember last year, someone brought in a Christmas coffee cup from Starbucks. A Christmas cup! Can you believe that?! It almost shut down the airspace over Albany for an hour. I kid you not.”

Whatever the case, this isn’t the only issue that has stirred controversy in the recent years. An aviation intersection named WHANG, a navigational aid named ‘Crazy Woman’, and a popular call-sign ‘Dixie’ in Atlanta are all popular contenders in the latest round of the proverbial aviation chopping block. They may be here today. But tomorrow? Who knows.


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