Exact cause of Hartsfield-Jackson blackout still a mystery

The world’s busiest airport lost power for eleven hours this past Sunday, causing over 1,000 flight cancellations putting the spotlight on a major U.S. utility.

Atlanta hub Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the primary connection site for all Delta flights and an airport that sees over 100 million passengers a day, underwent a total blackout on Sunday, December 17, beginning with a cable breach and subsequent fire that started in a tunnel beneath the airport. One of the largest utilities in the country, Georgia Power, supplies electricity to the airport.

Officials know this much: the trigger of the power outage was a fire that occurred at one of three Georgia Power substations at the airport. However, two of those three substations provide power the airport, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a public statement Sunday. At about 1:06 p.m., the power outage occurred.

About 30,000 people were affected by the power outage at the airport, according to Reed.

Many have asked why a backup system did not jump into place in support. Reed stressed that there are redundant systems in place at the airport, but said the switch that activates that fail-safe system was damaged by the flames because it was in a tunnel adjacent to the backup cables.

In the void left by a lack of definitive official explanation Monday, a rumor sprouted that a rodent may have been the possible culprit. This remains purely speculative as of Tuesday afternoon at 3 PM.

Local news reports offered some big-picture perspective as the public ponders the explanation:

“The short answer is that an electrical fire in a tunnel beneath the airport crippled both the main power system and its backup. Experts say the broader issue is that America’s airports don’t seem to be prepared for such events.

Georgia Power, the utility that provides Hartsfield-Jackson with electricity, said in a statement Monday that “a piece of Georgia Power switchgear located in an underground electrical facility could have failed and started a fire.”

Workers then had to wait between an hour and a half and two hours to enter the tunnel and start repairs due to safety concerns, Reed said at a press conference on Sunday.”


“[A] fire shouldn’t paralyze the country’s busiest airport for half the day. It may take a couple of hours to bring alternative power to the airport, but if the airport infrastructure itself was undamaged, it shouldn’t have been nearly as painful,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a public policy professor at DePaul University who specializes in transportation and urban planning.



  1. When Booth Becomes Bunker | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - January 11, 2018

    […] course, these things happen (the world’s busiest airport fell victim just a few weeks ago, too), and everyone present attempted to manage the situation accordingly. […]

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