Yesterday afternoon, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia suffered a near 12-hour power outage forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and the diversion of hundreds more. ATL-based Delta Air Lines said they had cancelled over 900 flights with a further 300 set to be axed Monday morning.
Power was cut at the airport which normally handles nearly 2,500 arrivals and departures every day, serving over 275,000 at around midday on Sunday. With only emergency power working, all operations quickly came to a halt.
The FAA was quick to issue a ground stop, forcing the diversion of flights that had been due to land at the airport. Hundreds of passengers who had already boarded their flights were stuck on the tarmac for hours due to the incident.
In a statement, the power company which provides services to Atlanta airport said all power had been restored “for all essential airport activities including all concourses and flight operations” as of 11:45 pm.
Georgia Power said a piece of switchgear, located in an underground electrical facility failed, resulting in a small fire that affected redundant circuit cables and switching mechanisms serving the airport. The location of the fire meant that backup systems were also hit by the outage.
Although an investigation is still underway, the power company said attempts to fix the damage were hampered due to the hazardous smoke and fumes that had built up. It is not yet known why the switchgear failed but Georgia Power said it would work with airport authorities to prevent a similar incident occurring in the future.
— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) December 18, 2017
The worst affected airline was Delta which has its operations based at ATL. The airline said the majority of cancellations on Monday would be made to allow operations to get back to normal at the airport. A travel waiver has been issued and a temporary embargo placed on unaccompanied minors.
This is the latest in a series of power outages and computer glitches that have forced the grounding of flights worldwide. Delta had a similar incident earlier this year when a fire in a tech hub damaged important computer equipment. In January, United Airlines suffered its own outage when a computer glitch forced the axing of all domestic services for a 2-hour period.
Perhaps the most famous incident was the British Airways ‘IT Meltdown’ in May which saw at least 75,000 passengers affected. That incident occurred after a tech engineer apparently took unauthorised action in a data centre owned by the airline. British Airways said it was caused by an “uncontrolled return of power” which physically damaged servers at the data centre.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.