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Atlanta outage prompts closer look at airport power

Atlanta outage prompts closer look at airport power

'There are going to be lessons learned across the United States'
Atlanta outage prompts closer look at airport power
Stranded travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Dec. 17, 2017.
Photographer: Dustin Chambers/The New York Times

COLONIE — Albany International Airport’s power plan has never failed it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned in Atlanta.

“We did experience a total loss of our electric feed in 2003 — it was Aug. 14, 2003, during the East Coast blackout — and our emergency generators were activated, and our normal operations continued,” airport spokesman Doug Myers said.

The emergency backup generators at Albany International are large enough to feed all of the airport’s critical systems, including the terminal, airfield lights, the air traffic control tower, airport rescue and firefighting systems, the parking lots, the air cargo facility and the “fuel farm,” where the airport stores fuel for planes, Myers said.

RELATED: Albany feels some effects from Atlanta airport outage

Some non-critical systems, like air conditioning, were throttled back during the outage in order to ensure energy remained stable to the critical systems, Myers said.

Discussions about airports’ backup electrical systems are likely to be more prevalent in the wake of the 11-hour power failure at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Sunday. Early indications are that the outage was caused by a fire that took out both the main power system and the backup systems, resulting in more than 1,000 canceled flights.

Myers said Albany International is served by two substations, both operated by National Grid, that send electricity to the facility from two different directions — one from the south and one from the west. But both of those substations feed into switching gear on airport property.

In Atlanta, preliminary reports indicate that the substations and the switching gear were located close enough together to be crippled by the same fire.

“At any given time, we are drawing 50 percent of our power from each of those two substations, Myers said. “In the event that one of those substations fails, the switch gear here will automatically switch to 100 percent power from the other substation.”

The emergency generators kick on when both substations fail, which has only happened the one time, in 2003, Myers said.

“We designed these circuits to work under every circumstance that we can think of,” said National Grid spokesman Nathan Stone.

Stone added that National Grid routinely inspects the systems at the airport, as well as other critical facilities like hospitals, to ensure they are working properly.

“Now that this thing happened in Atlanta, there are going to be lessons learned across the United States,” Stone said. “We can all learn from this stuff, and a lot of times, we find that we’ve already got those fail-safe systems built in.”

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