Georgia Power and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport personnel worked throughout the day yesterday to restore power as quickly and safely as possible after an outage hit the airport at 1 p.m. local time. By 11:45 p.m., power had been restored for all essential airport activities, including all concourses and flight operations.
While evaluation of the incident is ongoing, Georgia Power believes that a piece of Georgia Power switchgear located in an underground electrical facility could have failed and started a fire. This fire was located adjacent to redundant circuit cables and switching mechanisms serving the airport and those cables were damaged, resulting in the outage and loss of redundant service methods.
The fire was safely extinguished by fire crews before Georgia Power could enter the area to assess damage and begin repairs. In addition to the fire, responding crews faced hazardous fumes and smoke that had to fully clear prior to beginning restoration work. The event impacted not only the underground facilities, but also substations serving the Airport and, while the cause is not yet known, Georgia Power's system responded properly by isolating areas where equipment wasn't operating correctly to ensure safety and minimize damage. No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time.
Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power told ABC News that the central issue is that a switchgear "ignited" and "impacted our cables and the cables coming from two different directions and that's what ultimately caused the outage." Not only did the main system fail, he said, but the airport's backup system went out as well.
According to a statement issued by the utility, "Georgia Power has many redundant system and sources of power in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers - power outages affecting the Airport are very rare. The company will continue to actively work with the Airport to address any remaining impacts in non-essential areas of the Airport, determine the cause of today's incident and prevent future occurrences."
More than 400 flights had been canceled Monday at the world’s busiest airport and 42 flights had been delayed, according to FlightAware.com, following the massive outage that left travelers stuck inside airport terminals and in some cases aboard planes for hours. That number was an improvement from the 1,173 flights and 207 delays on Sunday, as reported by NBC News.