Airways New Zealand's secret flight plans for Santa on Christmas Eve

Staff at Airways New Zealand, the company tasked with managing the airspace above and around New Zealand, have just completed special training in the lead-up to Christmas Eve.

Airways confirmed to Newshub it had been contacted by Mr Claus when he first began designing a flight plan for 2020, but said details were confidential.

"Due to the 'Santa Clause' in our Christmas Eve contract, we can't divulge all details of Santa's plans. Our legal team has checked twice, and we'll all end up on the naughty list if we ruin the surprise for any little (or big) Kiwis," Airways NZ head of service Delivery Terminal, James Evans said.

"But our contacts in the North Pole have agreed to us sharing these exclusive details with you.

"Preparing for Santa's arrival is an extensive operation involving a lot of different teams across Airways. It is vitally important that we are able to give Santa all the support he needs to safely make his essential deliveries on time, particularly after such a challenging year. Our air traffic controllers will be on duty on Christmas Eve to make sure everything goes smoothly."

While the North Pole is COVID-19 free, Santa, the elves, and reindeer are said to be taking all the necessary precautions.

Air traffic controllers spoke to Santa on Zoom on Thursday.
Air traffic controllers spoke to Santa on Zoom on Thursday. Photo credit: Newshub

On Wednesday, Santa is said to have held a Zoom chat with staff at Airways' Christchurch-based radar centre. While the meeting itself was confidential, Newshub received a photo of the radar room moments after the conversation with the North Pole.

Santa's sleigh may be as old as time, but we're told it has been updated to stay in line with the latest technology in order to make for a smooth journey. It's equipped with a modern tracker known as an ADS-B transponder - a satellite-based system which means air traffic controllers know Santa's whereabouts the whole time he's in controlled airspace.

Santa also has one of the most unique callsigns and squawk codes in the world.

"All aircraft using the ADS-B system are assigned a unique squawk code that identifies them to air traffic control. The sleigh will appear with the label 'SLEIGH1' on our controllers' radar screens," said Evans.

Even though his movements are tracked closely, that doesn't mean Santa will be easy to spot.

"Santa follows a dedicated flight track that's not used by any regular flights. The sleigh flies much higher and dips down much lower than any normal flight, which means it's not normally spotted by any passengers who might be in the air on the night," Evans said.

Given the importance of his mission and the speed at which he travels, all aircraft crews on his flight path are given a special heads-up to keep an eye out. 

"We send out a NOTAM (notice to airmen) on Christmas Eve to let pilots know to keep an eye out. Over the years we've had plenty of reports of pilots catching the odd glimpse, or a wave," Evans said.

"We understand Santa is looking to make his 2020 deliveries in record time, so he might need to travel a bit lighter. That could mean that not everything we wish for is under the tree this year, but he will be making as many drops as he can."

Documents released to Newshub reveal Santa will fly to Aoteaora via Fiji.

Newshub obtained a draft of Santa's flight plan.
Newshub obtained a draft of Santa's flight plan. Photo credit: Newshub

"The flight plan shows that this year Santa will fly over Fijian airspace before heading down to New Zealand, zigzagging his way across Aotearoa, and then heading off to Australia via Norfolk Island," the document says.

"We can't share his exact time of arrival, but we can confirm it will be well after dark," an Airways spokesperson said.

It's not just air traffic controllers who say they'll be kept busy by Santa on Christmas Eve.  

Technicians and ground crews across the country will reportedly be making special carrot deliveries to runways around the country.