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United States Transportation

Power Outage Strands Thousands at US Airport. 600 Flights Cancelled (cnn.com) 189

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: A power outage at the world's busiest airport left thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals and in planes sitting on the tarmac, amid a nationwide ground stop. Incoming and outgoing flights at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were halted indefinitely as crews worked to restore power, leading to hundreds of flight delays and cancellations. Atlanta is the heart of the US air transport system, and what happens there has the potential to ripple through the country.

More than 600 flights to and from Atlanta have been canceled, including 350 departures, according to Flightradar24... Flights headed to Atlanta are being held on the ground at their departure airport. Inbound flights to Atlanta are being diverted, US Customs and Border Protection said. Departures from the airport are delayed because electronic equipment is not working in the terminals, the FAA said. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Some people stranded in the dark terminals used their cellphones as flashlights, one passenger told CNN. "There were a few emergency lights on, but it was really dark -- felt totally apocalyptic."
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Power Outage Strands Thousands at US Airport. 600 Flights Cancelled

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  • Oddly unprepared (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 17, 2017 @06:45PM (#55757949)

    It seems odd than an airport is so unprepared for a power outage. I'd have thought they would have enough backup generators to run essential systems. As far as fuel goes, jet fuel would likely run in at least some diesel generators.

    Sure you have to divide up the circuits so you can run essential systems, or go around and turn a bunch of stuff off. You'd need emergency lighting 24/7 at minimum and at least all the computers and security equipment.

    Sure that level of redundancy is not cheap, but in a national emergency we need air travel to work. Whatever the issue is, it needs fixed.

    • If only they had a large number of mobile power plants they could just fly in...

    • Essential means the tower, ILS beacons, runway lights, and radios, so planes can take off and land without crashing. All else is optional.
      • Re:Oddly unprepared (Score:5, Informative)

        by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @07:02PM (#55758027) Homepage Journal

        That's the absolutely essential. Ideally though, they could also keep enough systems running to continue moving people through. That would be computer terminals, adequate emergency lighting, baggage handling, etc. While highly arguable, I suppose TSA would claim their scanners are essential for as well.

        • by Max_W ( 812974 )
          I would add check-in counters, ticketing, customs, immigration. People cannot just come in to a plane from the street.
        • That would be computer terminals, adequate emergency lighting, baggage handling, etc.

          In your list that etc part is very long and includes many more systems. Airports require a phenomenal power draw during normal operation those computer terminals you list alone number in the thousands. It isn't as simple as keeping the lights on and shuffling people around using hand-written notes.

      • Reading the news, many of the planes weren't able to be filled or emptied because the jetways require electrical power. A modern airport can't really accommodate the amount of passenger throughput without even simple technology...

      • Essential means the tower, ILS beacons, runway lights, and radios, so planes can take off and land without crashing. All else is optional.

        That's strange, because my company built a new HQ in the mid 2000's and we're required to light up the building like the Las Vegas Strip during a power outage. How is an airport not required to do at least the same? There were reports that people stranded in the terminals couldn't see because there were so few emergency lights.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 17, 2017 @07:00PM (#55758017)

      "It seems odd than an airport is so unprepared for a power outage."

      Simple solution. The government will prohibit the word 'power-outage' and presto, no problemo.

    • US domestic airlines don't know the meaning of the phrase "contingency planning". All of their operations immediately go to shit at the slightest hiccup.

      Delta won't recover from this until early 2018, with the holiday travel rush coming just after they get this mess sorted out.

    • That was my first thought. Then it occurred to me I don't recall hearing this ever happen before at an airport. Perhaps they have sufficient backup systems to handle any expected power outage, but those backup systems failed for whatever reason, or transitioning to them failed. I'm sure they've needed to switch to backup power before; we probably didn't hear about it because it switched over just fine in the past.

      I've seen incidents where a web server had two independent backups that both failed. Good, r

    • by stooo ( 2202012 )

      >> -- felt totally apocalyptic.
      it's only the beginning.

    • I'd have thought they would have enough backup generators to run essential systems

      They do. Essential systems are the ones that keep the flying planes in the air, not ones that keep the airport fully functional.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      I'm involved in an emergency generator construction project for an airport that was previously the world's busiest. They will have an 18 MW capacity. The system was designed to run for 4 hours from the diesel fuel tanks located in the generator building ( a code requirement) and for 48 hours including the underground diesel fuel storage tanks located at the heating and refrigeration plant. (a request from the user and insurer) A lot of things are connected to the generators, but they have a load sheddin
  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @06:48PM (#55757971)
    What happened to backup generators? You would think that such crucial infrastructure system would have backup generators to run important systems.
    • by WankerWeasel ( 875277 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @07:02PM (#55758033)
      They certainly have backup power for critical systems like air traffic but remember that an airport is basically a city. 275,000 people a day pass through that airport. The eleven different four-car trains there carry 200,000 people each day. The terminal is 6.8 million square feet. Just to keep some lights on so people don't panic requires a ton of backup power. Providing power for all the baggage handling, runway lights, and all other systems is a HUGE ask. Powering it during normal times likely takes damn near its own power plant. Running it on backup power would an insane requirement.
      • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @07:29PM (#55758119)

        It can be done pretty easily, it just costs money. Airports like Honolulu have on-site backup generation, but not sure what percentage of the load it covers— my guess would be about 65%.

        For Atlanta the load should be around 35-40MW. 5-6 Turbines would cover it, but it would be about $20 million, and then you need to make sure your common points of failure with utility power are manageable, which would likely double the cost.

        • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @10:39PM (#55758691)

          Referring to 40 MW as "backup power" is a bit ridiculous. That's a whole new powerplant right there.

          Anyway, it looks like there was a fire which not only cut power but also damaged some of the backup systems.

          • Referring to 40 MW as "backup power" is a bit ridiculous. That's a whole new powerplant right there.

            What's your point? A major transportation hub like Atlanta easily does enough commerce to justify a standby power plant. Heck, power companies maintain these already for times of need. Wouldn't be hard to work out a deal to share the cost.

            Anyway, it looks like there was a fire which not only cut power but also damaged some of the backup systems.

            If one fire can damage the backup systems then they weren't really backup systems now were they?

          • by jbengt ( 874751 )
            ORD has (will have when construction is complete) 16 MW emergency generator capacity. That is backup. The way the place is wired, they just connected at the switchgears to everything, but with automatic switches to shed loads so as to not overlaod the generators.
            Still, if one of those switchgears were to catch fire, the way one apparently did at Hartsfield, a large area would be without main power and without backup power, but it would be likely confined to a single terminal.
        • One single gas turbine derived from a large aircraft engine should be able to generate that much electrical power. GE LM9000 comes to mind.

        • So you don't need a power plant you only need a power plant?

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )
          $20 million is an very low estimate,especially for construction at an airport with all the security requirements, the need to work around airport operations, the need to keep the place open 24 hrs a day / 365 days a year (366 on leap years), etc.
      • They certainly have backup power for critical systems like air traffic but remember that an airport is basically a city. 275,000 people a day pass through that airport. The eleven different four-car trains there carry 200,000 people each day. The terminal is 6.8 million square feet. Just to keep some lights on so people don't panic requires a ton of backup power. Providing power for all the baggage handling, runway lights, and all other systems is a HUGE ask. Powering it during normal times likely takes damn near its own power plant. Running it on backup power would an insane requirement.

        And to pile on, if you took out the central switchgear, you're screwed regardless of having generators. Offhand it appears they didn't think too much about redundancy or diversity when designing the airport's electrical system..... 'half the power is gone' would be a much less sensational headline!

        • A backup system limits the common points of failure with the primary system. While there are plenty of airports with co-generation plants that can backfeed the primary utility circuits supporting the airport, this is generally not considered a backup system. (LAX has about 20MW of generation in their central plant, but IIRC it doesn't have black-start capability, as an example.)

          Airports have the benefit of being big; generally, a properly designed system will maintain reduced operations under failure condi

      • They don't need backup generators for this kind of fault. Just a second main power feed from the grid. There's plenty of power in the city of Atlanta, just no way to get it to the airport.
      • NO FUCKING EXCUSES! This is a major hub, the entire airport is a critical goddamn circuit, and don't give me the load of bullshit about the amount of power either when this same country has a CITY with a UPS! That's right, Fairbanks, Alaska has enough battery power to run the city until the emergency plant can come on if the line to Anchorage fails Atlanta airport is nothing.

        • Fairbanks has a population of 32,751. This airport sees more than 839% more people come through in a single day. The two aren't anywhere near comparable.
          • It isn't as far off as you might imagine though. The Australian Tesla battery plant as an example could give the whole airport ~3 hours of ride-through. Break it up so you have backup at each substation and you are in pretty good shape.

            • The Tesla battery factory likely has the most battery power on the planet. That's like saying they'd be fine if they just had their own nuclear power station.
          • Fairbanks has a population of 32,751. This airport sees more than 839% more people come through in a single day. The two aren't anywhere near comparable.

            Then with that much commerce going on it should be trivial to justify the cost of a properly designed backup power system. Especially when you consider the full costs of a shutdown at such a major airport.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We did up until recently have a robust power generation capacity, but it lacked sufficient power to run the automated passenger immobilization & compression system required to load the next generation of aircraft (late 2019 and beyond). There are also no generating systems on the market which are capable of powering the new equipment, so it would serve no purpose beyond keeping the lights and computers running. If primary power shuts down, we lose the ability to load passenger-bearing aircraft and wil

    • What happened to backup generators?

      Airport Guy: Backup generators? You mean a backup and generators? We had both, but we never tested the backup and the generators are dead.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Enough to keep the communications systems working to tell flights to divert to their alternate airports.
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @06:52PM (#55757997)

    And John McClain just tweeted that he's about to pick his wife up from the airport!

  • ...stopping a heist of gold bars being shipped through the airport. All he was doing was catching a flight home for the holidays.

  • DELTA hub...
    "Duh, Everything Leaves Through Atlanta"

  • by OFnow ( 1098151 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @07:58PM (#55758259)

    Some folks with no love for the US have been experimenting lately. A recent incident involved corrupting some systems intended to prevent wide-scale power interruptions. One wonders if this was simply a proof-of-concept operation. One hopes this is thoroughly investigated. Not just written off as embarrassing.

  • Yet, I cannot help thinking about the wired article about power outages in Ukraine [wired.com].
  • Maybe if we rebuilt our decrepit infrastructure we wouldn't have these problems.
  • Seriously?

    They never thought about a backup power scenario?

    EVER? In 90 years?

  • As opposed to partially apocalyptic.

    a poc a lyp tic - adjective:
    - describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world.

    That said, I was in the Atlanta airport at 4am once, many years ago, for a red-eye layover from LA to Norfolk and it was pretty quite and creepy.

  • by Drakonblayde ( 871676 ) on Monday December 18, 2017 @12:55AM (#55759005)

    I was stuck at Hartsfield for 11 hours last week thanks to the snowstorm that hit Atlanta.

    The snow wasn't all that bad. The problem was that the planes had to be deiced before they could take off. Hartsfield only has 4 de-icing pads. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to de-ice a regional jet, about an hour to de-ice one of the heavies. I was listening to ground control pretty much the entire time (thank you LiveATC app), and it was a mess. Pilots weren't responding to directions properly, creating an even bigger traffic jam. There was no clear order in which the planes were going to be de-iced, it was decided by the airlines based on priority of flight and the order wasnt always communicated to the ground control tower, so the ground controllers couldn't even line them up in the order they were going to be de-iced. This combined with the lack of speed to de-ice the planes led to a number of flights having to return to the gate in order to avoid tripping over the 3 hour rule. This also resulted in other flights not pushing back from the gates, since once they close that cabin door, the 3 hour countdown begins. Incoming flights were delayed or cancelled because there weren't gates open for their passengers, and since inbound flights were getting cancelled, outbound flights were as well since the planes that would be servicing those outbound flights were no longer inbound.

    It became apparent to me that this wasn't a weather problem. It was a major inefficiency in airline operations. Yeah, I know, it's Georgia (I lived in the Atlanta metro area for over 2 decades) and it doesn't snow that often, but you'd think the busiest airport in the US would be better equipped to handle something like de-icing planes, especially given the ripple effect that disruptions at Hartsfield has on not just US transport, but globally as well. The international disruption isn't that bad, those flights can be diverted pretty easily, but domestic flight? There aren't any nearby airports that are even close to capable of handling the load that Hartsfield does.

    And then today there's a major power outage that disrupts one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

    Maybe now they'll pay attention and revamp Hartsfield's operations so that it doesn't fuck everyone plans up.

    • Maybe now they'll pay attention and revamp Hartsfield's operations so that it doesn't fuck everyone plans up.

      That's mighty optimistic of you. I'm reasonably confident they will do a good approximation of absolutely nothing and have the exact same problem again in the future. I really try to avoid that particular airport as much as I can. I've flown through Atlanta Hartsfield quite a few times and the number of times I've gotten through that airport without some flight operations fiasco occurring might be 20-30% of the time. There always seems to be at least a minor delay and I've been stranded there overnight

    • How many de-icing stations is one expected to keep in a area of the country chosen because it rarely drops below freezing.
      • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

        Either none if keeping the airport operating below freezing is not important, or as many as airports further north that freeze frequently. Doing things by halves was as good as useless, and costs far more than doing nothing. Go big or stay home.

        • Well it has to be more than below freezing. Even in northern airports (I used to fly out of Pittsburgh all the time), there are often delays associated with de-icing. You don't need to do it every day or even all day.
      • That would be a valid question if it wasn't for the fact that problems at Hartsfield have a bigger effect than just the area of the country that rarely drops below freezing.

        Busiest airport in the US. The only way you get to that state is by landing and departing a very large number of flights. There aren't enough flights in the southeast to garner that distinction, so when Hartsfield is fucked up, its more than just the southeast that's fucked up. Gotta stop thinking of Atlanta as just a georgia airport, it

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      An hour to de-ice? Sounds ridiculously long.
      • That's what the ground controller was telling the pilots, and I believe it. I've had to sit through a deicing process while boarded on a CRJ900 before, and it was about 20 minutes. The heavies are way bigger, and since they have to inspect the body after deicing to make sure they got it all, thats alot more plane to cover, so I can believe it takes longer.

        The thing that surprised me is that the airport apparently doesnt have any deicing trunks. If you pull up a map of the airport, the area marked Ramp 20 ar

        • Seems like it'd be a hell of alot more efficient to roll some decing trucks and hit the plane while it's at the gate.

          Collecting the deicing fluid before it hits the aquifer or other environmentally sensitive area is the problem.

  • by OneAhead ( 1495535 ) on Monday December 18, 2017 @06:52AM (#55759981)
    CNN Reports [cnn.com]:

    The electrical fire's intensity damaged two substations serving the airport, including the airport's "redundant system" that should have provided backup power, Reed said.

    Am I the only one who finds it strange that two supposedly redundant systems are housed under the same roof, or at least so close together that both of them can be damaged by the same fire? At my last employer, we duplicated stuff that is far less critical over 2 buildings located at a good distance from each other...

    • What? Your last employer spent money?

    • by Shimbo ( 100005 )

      Am I the only one who finds it strange that two supposedly redundant systems are housed under the same roof, or at least so close together that both of them can be damaged by the same fire?

      Possibly. At some point you need to join your A and B feeds together; unless you are going to put dual power supplies into just about everything, which would be wildly impractical for something as large as an airport.

  • A power outage at the world's busiest airport left thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals and in planes sitting on the tarmac, amid a nationwide ground stop. Incoming and outgoing flights at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were halted indefinitely as crews worked to restore power, leading to hundreds of flight delays and cancellations. Atlanta is the heart of the US air transport system, and what happens there has the potential to ripple through the country.

    Have airports ever heard of something called a standby generator? Yes it would have to be a big one for an airport but it only really has to power operationally critical systems. If the starbucks is without power for a few hours, who cares? I have a hard time believing they cannot cost justify some sort of power redundancy to keep flight operations going for several hours at minimum.

    Yes I read the bit about a substation being damaged. If a fire to a single substation screws up the backup power then it w

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      >blockquote>The entire point of a backup is to eliminate single points of failure.

      You're still going to have a single point of failure at the switchover point, no matter what you do. Not that that should allow a single fire to take down two separate substations, but you never know if the reporter understands what they're being told let alone translates properly so the reader understands.

  • Atlanta-Hatfield is not just a US airport. If things go bad there, that's likely to have a knock-on effect on the whole of the US, and on many intercontinental flights.
  • My first question would be whether the Georgia Power substation was using Triconex Safety Instrumented System (SIS) controllers.

    See this post last week by FireEye, where an attack was made in a similar scenario. [fireeye.com]

    From the post, "We have not attributed the incident to a threat actor, though we believe the activity is consistent with a nation state preparing for an attack."

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