It appears certain that Santa’s sleigh would fly under the definition of “aircraft” in Australian law, so it may be helpful to consider whether Santa Claus himself has been naughty or nice this year. Is he an obedient aviator or does he consistently break one or more international air safety rules?
Many modern laws on international air navigation are governed by the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) (1944) 15 UNTS 295; 23 ILM 705;  ATS 5. Australia is one of 128 signatory countries to the Chicago Convention. Since Santa probably has to deliver presents in at least one of those countries, Santa and his sleigh will have to comply with its requirements.
Regulations 133 and 135 of the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988 (Cth) require any aircraft flying over Australia be registered in Australia, or in a State party to the Chicago Convention. If Santa’s sleigh is not appropriately registered (under the Convention or Pt 47 of the Regulations), Santa Claus could be subject to a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for flying an unregistered aircraft within Australian territory, under s 20AA(1) of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Cth). That would probably put Santa Claus on the “naughty” list.
In addition to registration, if an aircraft wants to engage in international air navigation over the territory of a State party to the Chicago Convention, it must display appropriate nationality and registration marks (Arts 17 and 20 of the Convention). If Santa’s sleigh were registered in Australia, it would be a strict liability offence with a penalty of $8,500 for failing to display these marks. As there have been no confirmed sightings of the required marks on Santa’s sleigh in Australian airspace it appears to be strike two for Santa.
The Chicago Convention and Australian law require that aircraft crew hold the relevant licences. This means that Santa (or one of his elf-pilots) would need an appropriate pilot’s licence. If the pilot does not hold an appropriate licence, it would also be a strict liability offence with a penalty of $8,500. If Santa’s licence is in order, he should be fine unless he allowed an unlicensed elf to take the reins for a minute while he was polishing off some milk and cookies. But at least we can commend Santa Claus for not drinking and flying.
Santa may not be entirely tangled in a web of red tinsel. As his sleigh is reputedly propelled by eight to nine reindeer, he is unlikely to violate air rules relating to environmental protection.
Neither will Santa be a trespassing nuisance in the air, as most Australian states have legislated to exclude trespass to airspace and nuisance for “mere flight” of aircraft over land. However, it is unclear whether flying close enough to houses to alight and deliver presents comes under “mere flight” and of course it still leaves the question open of whether Santa Claus is trespassing on land.
This article only covers a few of the issues involved with Santa Claus’ whirlwind tour of the Earth but it appears unlikely that Santa Claus complies with all of the rules and regulations involved in international air navigation, especially when we have not had the time to consider speed restrictions. Just how fast does Santa have to travel to make it around the whole world in one night, while stopping to deliver presents along the way?
It is just as well that Santa is an adult. I doubt he would be on his own “nice” list otherwise.
International air safety laws are discussed in The Laws of Australia Subtitle 34.2 “Aviation” while environmental protection in relation to pollution is discussed in Subtitle 14.6 “Environmental Harm: Pollution Control and Hazardous Substances”. Trespass and Nuisance are dealt with in Title 33 Torts, Subtitles 33.8 “Trespass and Intentional Torts” and 33.7 “Nuisance”.
For more information about The Laws of Australia, click here.