Atlanta Airport Power Outage: Cause & Latest Update

A major power outage stranded hundreds of passengers at the Atlanta airport on December 17, grounding flights, and leaving the airport in the dark, but what was the cause?

Georgia Power now says the power outage was likely caused by a fire. In a news release, the utility wrote that Georgia Power “continues to work closely with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport personnel onsite to restore power to the Airport as quickly as possible. Assessment and repair efforts are well underway at this time and the company expects to have power restored to the Airport by midnight tonight.”

Power was restored around midnight.

Atlanta’s mayor says there is no evidence the outage was deliberate. The mayor also said that travelers are being sent to the convention center for shelter, with meals courtesy of Chick-fil-A. However, according to Fox 5 anchorwoman Deidra Dukes, the mayor also “says can’t rule out terrorism, not ruling anything out while cause of blaze is unknown. Security sweeping the airport as @GeorgiaPower works to determine cause of fire.”

Watch the mayor’s press conference here:

Georgia Power believes the issue may have involved a fire which caused extensive damage in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility. “The fire was safely extinguished by fire crews before Georgia Power could enter the area to assess damage and begin repairs,” the utility wrote in a news release. “The event impacted not only the underground facilities but also substations serving the Airport and, while the cause if not yet known, Georgia Power’s system responded by isolating areas where equipment wasn’t operating correctly to ensure safety and minimized damage. No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time. Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers – power outages affecting the Airport are very rare.”

The city of Atlanta shared the press release on its Twitter page.

Although Georgia Power estimated the problem would be fixed by midnight, Flight Aware, a website that tracks flights, wrote, “…all inbound flights being held at their origin until Sunday at 08:00PM EST. Arrival delays for airborne aircraft an average of 29 minutes. Departure delays an average of 1 hours 25 minutes.”

At 4 p.m., the airport released a press release saying that the cause of the power outage remained under investigation. “ATL officials are working with Georgia power to identify the cause and remedy the situation, and will update as soon as more information is made available, “ wrote the airport, which reported that the power outage occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on December 17.

The airport noted that the Federal Aviation Administration had issued a ground stop for flights headed to Atlanta’s airport, with many flights inbound to Atlanta being diverted. “A ground stop means that flights headed to Atlanta are held on the ground at their departure airport,” reported the airport.

The airport directed passengers to their individual airlines’ social media channels as well as its own.

“A Delta Air Lines pilot said a construction crew cut a power line, causing the outage,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported early on, but that was before Georgia Power released the information about a fire. Reporter Joe Henke of 11AliveNews tweeted, “@GeorgiaPower confirms there is a power outage at @ATLairport. GA Power confirms they have crews headed that way. No further details at this moment.”

The airport tweeted that the cut power line report was not confirmed.

Henke also wrote, “@ATLairport spokesman tells NBC News power outage happened around 12:55 p.m. Cause is an electrical issue at GA Power substation. @GeorgiaPower and @ATLFireRescue at the airport. A large portion of Hartsfield-Jackson is impacted.”

At 7:30 p.m, the power was back on in one concourse.

Passengers were irate, reporting being trapped on escalators and stuck on airplanes. Delta was offering a refund for people affected. You can get more information here.

Angry passengers filled Twitter with comments and concerns. Here’s a sample:

“Allow ground traffic to the location and we can leave. That should be a priority. Travelers have been on the ground for hours without power and are unable to leave.”

“So who is the person responsible for you know….making sure there are generators on every terminal to prevent this kind of thing? This should have never happened even if a huge moat was “accidentally” dug around the entire airport.”

Others were more conciliatory:

“Thank guys, we’re looking forward to heading home when we can. Appreciate the effort!”

“Atlanta Airport has no electricity and there was a fire and I’m stuck in Atlanta for the night. Could be worse, seems nice here.”