A power outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, the busiest airport in the world, left the facility in darkness for nearly 11 hours until it ended at about 11:45 Sunday night.
More than 1,500 flights were canceled when an electrical fire ignited in an underground electrical facility. It was large enough to damage grid components of the airport’s main and backup power supplies.
Georgia Power’s “outage map” notified officials of the fire soon after it began. However, Atlanta’s airport was left without power and all flights grounded for about half a day, because repair crews were not able to access the damaged part of the power grid immediately.
“It took them a while to extinguish the flames. And then there were toxic fumes in there, and so they had to be sure it was safe before any officials or even [Georgia Power] crews could go in there,” a Georgia Power spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
A failed switchboard may have started the fire, but an official reason may be days away still as investigators examine the mechanics, according to a Georgia Power press release.
“It’s hard to tell exactly what happened there,” Georgetown University adjunct professor and National Defense University economics professor Dr. Paul Sullivan told TheDCNF after examining photos from the fire. “It could most likely be poor maintenance.”
Many airports in the U.S. are old and rely on constant maintenance to stay functional. Some are not designed to manage the demand of expanding airport infrastructure and lack technology, such as “smart grids,” that cut down risk and limit damage when a problem arises.
“[The exact cause of the blackout] is going to be important for many other airports,” Sullivan said. Engineers and specialists should be combing major travel and shipping hubs around the country to protect against similar issues and develop better grid plans and technology.
“It’s going to be very costly, and these are businesses. They’re going to have to think about cost and benefit, but also the security of the system,” Sullivan said. “This is critical infrastructure. With airports not running, a lot of other things get messed up.”
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