Santa Claus and his eight reindeer might have to bypass Utah's capital this year if the Salt Lake City Department of Airports has its way.

For years now Salt Lake City has been very accommodating of the jolly old elf and his flying team. The city's general aviation ordinance makes it clear that Santa's sleigh has free rein to fly about the city at low altitudes on Christmas Eve despite restrictions on low-flying aircraft other days of the year.

Now, however, some airport leaders want to rewrite the city's general aviation rules — a revision that includes eliminating the city's long-standing exemption on low-flying Christmas Eve reindeer.

Such a prohibition could spoil Santa's chance of delivering presents to boys and girls in Salt Lake City, others say.

Of course, the banning of Santa's aerial mode of transport isn't a done deal.

And Thursday the City Council gave a preliminary thumbs-down to Scroogish rewriters of city code.

"I would hate to see us outlaw Santa and the reindeer on Christmas Eve," Councilman Van Turner said. "I don't think that would be fair to the children."

The issue arose from a routine rewrite of Title 16 of the city code dealing with general aviation in Salt Lake City. One provision of the code calls for small aircraft to maintain an altitude of more than 2,000 feet over the city.

There is one exception to that 2,000-foot provision: "On Christmas Eve only, flying reindeer and any cargo they may be towing shall be exempt from the two-thousand-foot height restriction."

But a panel of airport managers, including Tim Campbell, executive director of the department of airports, a member of the city's airport board and the General Aviation User Group, want the reindeer exception out.

Campbell said the issue even came to a vote among panel members, and the ballot narrowly fell against Santa and his sleigh.

"It actually was pretty widely discussed," he said. In the end, a majority of panel members "felt that including that in the ordinance was just too much hilarity for something that should be fairly serious."

Councilman Carlton Christensen agrees the city should have a measure of circumspection in its laws.

"It's a professionalism of aviation kind of issue," he said. Still, Christensen isn't sure if keeping a certain dignity in the city code is worth banning Kriss Kringle.

"I wouldn't want Santa Claus to feel like he's broken the law," he said. "I sort of feel like the judge in 'Miracle on 34th Street.' "

Besides, Christensen wonders, if the city bans Rudolph's low-flying crew, who will be there to enforce the law? After all, the police are too busy and the city can't afford to pay enforcement officers overtime to go undercover in search of rogue reindeer.

While Christensen remains on the fence, other council members have made up their minds.

Like Turner, Councilwoman Nancy Saxton isn't ready for Saint Nick to skip Salt Lake City because of red tape.

"I've given it lots of thought," she said. "No. 1, if anything goes wrong, I want them to be low enough that they will be able to make an emergency landing. Also, if they have to fly that high it may make them late in their other deliveries."

The council is expected to take a final vote on the proposed general aviation code changes next month.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com