On Sunday, Dec. 17, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport located in Georgia was closed due to a major power outage.
The power outage was caused by a fire in an underground service tunnel that burned through the airport’s main power supply and its backup power. Officials say that the cause of the fire was likely a problem with a mechanism that was meant to switch power in a part of the airport from one source to another.
“Engineers design systems for the likelihood of something happening. You can’t design for every eventuality,” Christine Brotz, an engineer and instructor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering said. “If we designed every system so that it could never, ever fail, it would be too expensive to build. So, there is always some compromise in design as far as the likelihood of something happening.”
The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is the busiest in the world, measured by passenger traffic. According to NBC News, More than 104 million commuters passed through the airport in 2016. The reason for this may be that the airport is less than a two-hour flight away for 80% of the US. The airport handles about 2,500 flights and 275,000 passengers every day.
As a result of the power outage, about 730 flights were delayed and about 1,590 were canceled on Sunday and Monday. An estimated 30,000 people were stranded at the airport.
The Hartsfield-Jackson power outage highlights a bigger problem with aging airports across the US. The last major international airport to be built in the US was the Denver International Airport, completed in 1996. Many airports across the nation are in need of rehabilitation, but resources are not being set aside to improve them.
The impact of the power outage has been far reaching. Delays and cancellations have affected flights all over the US during one of the busiest times of the year.