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Will drones replace Rudolph?

With the implementation of new technologies at Claus Enterprises, Santa is seriously considering replacing his team of reindeer and using drones to deliver presents. Rudolph is already looking for another job.

Drones could greatly expedite the delivery of holiday packages all around the world. This could help St. Nick and his staff meet tight deadlines. But how would it work?

Aviation law

The presence in airspace of drones delivering gifts presents a difficult problem. Before drones coming from Lapland reach Poland, they would have to cross several countries. But how to zip through the skies when the aviation rules differ so much from one jurisdiction to the next? Neither international guidelines for organising civil flights nor uniform European regulations have been enacted so far.

In Poland the ability to move presents by drone and the requirements they must meet will depend among other factors on the take-off weight. It would be best not to exceed 150 kg. But even such light drones can be flown only in the operators’ “visual line of sight” (VLOS). Flights “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) could occur only in designated zones, which would effectively prevent Santa from achieving his mission of delivering surprises to every corner of the country. On top of that he would have to procure classification certificates for the drones, plus civil liability insurance, not to mention complying with lots of other special requirements.

The case for drones could be helped by work to amend the Polish Aviation Law, conducted by a team appointed in March 2013 by the Civil Aviation Authority, but the team will certainly not manage to introduce solutions for gift-bearing drones before Christmas this year. In terms of the Aviation Law, the scales now tip decidedly in Rudolph’s favour. With his bright and shiny nose, he can hardly slip unnoticed over the horizon, but this time of year officials tend to look the other way. They wouldn’t go so easy on drones.

Personal data

There is yet another reason Santa is considering automating the gift delivery process. For years he has been steamed at the reindeer for sometimes forgetting whether someone was thrilled to get a curling iron and or was disappointed by a set of rubber dumbbells. Santa likes to analyse this information to avoid inappropriate presents in the future. So he’s interested in investing in drones that would record sound, pictures, location, and anything indicating the recipient’s response to the present.

But St. Nick’s legal advisers immediately smelled trouble. In that case the drones would undoubtedly be gathering and processing personal data of the gift recipients. With some certainty, Santa would be deemed the controller of that data, entailing the need to comply with certain obligations. He would have to obtain the recipients’ consent to processing of their data. On top of that, some of the data could be sensitive data, for example concerning religious beliefs. Then consent would have to be given in writing. Santa would also have to provide information such as the reason for collecting the data.

Meeting these requirements would not have to be impossible, as the gift-giving campaign is planned in advance for a specific timeframe and the process of obtaining consent and spreading information could start in the middle of the year. The drones could even distribute information about the data collection by dropping brochures down chimneys. But all this would defeat the element of surprise and unexpected delight that is key to Santa’s whole business plan. Rudolph would seem to prevail on the personal data front as well.


On-the-job accidents happen to the best of us. Anything could happen during the flight of the drones, and might lead to civil or even criminal liability. In a moment’s inattention by the operator, a drone might catch on the Christmas tree lights and short-circuit the whole neighbourhood. With his personal charm, Rudolph could defuse such potentially volatile situations. There must be something to this; after all, has anyone ever sued Santa Claus?

And what if one of Rudolph’s irate fans decided to shoot down a drone?

Santa would also have to invest in training the elves at the North Pole to operate the drones—or invest in automating them out of existence entirely. The whole venture would require legal support across a number of areas. Plus there would be implementation contracts, servicing agreements, licence fees, deals with subcontractors and so on.

So no. Let Amazon and Deutsche Post roll out drones for their deliveries. They don’t necessarily suit every business model. Reindeer may just be high-tech enough for Santa Claus.

Lena Marcinoska, Intellectual Property Practice and New Technologies Practice, Wardyński & Partners