Dec 24, 2010, 11.14am

The annual charity circumnavigation flight by St Nicholas may not go ahead tonight, according to a release by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The flight, traditionally undertaken in a craft rated for ENOPS (Extended Nine Engine Operations) under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and calling for flight levels below 8,000 ft, could be banned under new icing fears, and the possibility that parcels due to be carried on board the flight may not have been properly scrutinised for potential terror threats, in the wake of November’s printer cartridge threat.

The Transportation Security Administration is concerned too that St. Nicholas may not be able to fit into the new Backscatter Radiation scanners for security checks.  If these three concerns are not rectified by the time of the 11pm takeoff at Kiritimati (Christmas Island) to the satisfaction of FAA officials on the ground, the aircraft will not be allowed to enter US airspace or the NORAD ADIZ; a detour which could in theory render the un-refuelled circumnavigation impossible.  Draft defence NOTAMs have been issued calling for the flight to be diverted under threat of force by NORAD interceptors.

Santa’s flight has been controversial once before; in 2008, Santa ignored an illumination by the Washington, DC area Special Flight Rules Area Alert Notification System, and had to be forced to land by Longbow Apache interceptors.