In these days of the global marketplace and heightened travel security, it might seem unreasonable for a jolly fat man in a red suit with a sleigh and a team of reindeer to expect free access to the nation's skies.

But imagine for a minute the sheer size and agonizing detail of the flight plan that Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus, would file before embarking on his trip each Christmas Eve. In the past, Santa had been required by the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a special flight certificate and specify each rooftop he'd visit and in what order. The flight plan and other paperwork were just more bureaucratic details for a cadre of busy elves to add to their preflight checklists.

So in an effort to make Santa's job easier, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta signed an Open Skies Agreement with the North Pole in Washington today. The North Pole, represented at a press conference by Santa himself, became the 75th territory to have an Open Skies agreement with the United States but the first governed by elves.

"Now the only restrictions on Santa's flight are the weather and snow on the rooftops," said Mineta as he stood next to Santa before reporters and television cameras. "Now the only time he needs to worry about red tape is if he wants to use it to wrap presents."

Free to Fly

The two then took up candy-cane pens and signed official copies of the agreement, which grants Santa the right to "fly his sleigh over the United States and land on rooftops of all good girls and boys whose names are present on his list."

The agreement makes no mention of the homes and rooftops of the bad boys and girls.

The agreement was possible because both the United States and the North Pole, according to the text, are parties to the Convention on Holiday Affairs, recognized "many years ago" in Chicago on Dec. 25.

Pleased with the agreement, Santa said Mineta is "not only on the short list but the final list."

Santa has a long history of cooperation with the U.S. government. Kids and Santa advocates can monitor Santa and the elves' progress on Christmas Eve at www.noradsanta.org, a Web site posted in six languages and maintained each year by the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It offers interactive maps and real-time updates, though it's not recommended that children stay up past their Christmas Eve bedtimes to track Santa.

NORAD has tracked Santa every year since 1955.