Airport’s Blackout Could Cost More Than Apologies

Passengers wait after the lights went out at Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Atlanta.

Branden Camp / Associated Press

The blackout at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Sunday may have cost more than peace of mind.

Aviation analysts estimate the more than 10-hour power outage may also have cost Delta Air Lines $50 million.

Seth Kaplan, editor of Airline Weekly, said that shouldn’t be a big hit to the airline whose headquarters are in Atlanta.

“That is a lot of money – certainly nothing catastrophic for an airline like Delta, which does $40 billion a year in business,” he said.

Delta covered the cost of hotel rooms, rebooking fees, and passed out food and water to passengers Sunday.  It canceled more than a thousand flights between Sunday and Monday morning.

Aviation analyst Bob Mann said unlike weather events, in which passengers are typically stranded, the electrical fire that knocked out power at Atlanta’s airport prompted Delta Air Lines to cover costs.

“They’re not trying to be cheap with customers,” Mann said. “They’re covering hotel rooms, despite no need to do so, under their own tariff or under any DOT rule interpretation. This is not their fault. And that’s to their benefit ultimately for customers who understand they are not obligated to do that.”

Kaplan said Delta is in a place where it can absorb a type of catastrophe like the one that happened Sunday.

“A little more than a decade ago, when it was bankrupt, little things could really make a big difference,” he said. “Right now it’s fine. It’ll probably go back to being the most reliable airline here within a few days.”

Where Was The Back-Up?

Delta wasn’t the only company left to wonder about the effect Monday’s outage could have on its business. Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers apologized Monday for the power outage.

The fire in the underground substation damaged the main power unit and cables that the secondary unit would’ve used.

That left thousands of stranded passengers wondering: where was the back-up?

Georgia Power’s John Kraft said the power has been re-routed, but the main system isn’t back up and running yet.

“We’re looking at things that would indicate cause,” Kraft said. “We’re looking at things and ways that we might re-design or work that we could do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Kraft said there is no concern that the power outage will have an effect on an expected busy holiday travel season.

Iris Tien, an engineering professor at Georgia Tech, said Georgia Power and airport officials should look at ways to make sure the power units are more equipped to handle an emergency like this.

“Something that comes out of this event and other events we’ve seen is that you need to have not only these functionally separated but these geographically separated back-up as well,” Tien said.

Tien said designing a power grid to withstand a fire looks different than building one to handle a natural disaster like a hurricane.

Georgia Power officials said the investigation into what happened could last through the end of the week. Officials say it will be a lengthy process before the main system is fully repaired.