Hartsfield-Jackson says backup power generators will take up to six months

Baggage left after the power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM File photo

Baggage left after the power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM File photo

In the wake of the massive December power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International, airport officials are working on plans for backup power generators and are considering smoke detection cameras.

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council said it may take up to six months to get temporary portable backup generators. He said the airport could start loading backup power for Concourses A and B — the two busiest concourses at the world's busiest airport — so there wouldn't be "a total blackout the way we had in the past."

During the Dec. 17 outage, "We had a lot of people that were sitting on the tarmac on planes," Council said. Jet bridges require a lot of power to operate, but "we need to have an avenue to be able to bring planes to the gates."

Over the long term, “We’re going to be putting permanent generation on each concourse that will allow us to recover 100 percent” of lost power, Council said. The generators would provide the power to keep the airport operating until Georgia Power can fix the problem, he said.

The airport manager said he expects it to take 24 to 36 months to get permanent generators in place. One challenge is running power lines to connect to the generators, because the airport would “still need to get the feed from Georgia Power.”

He said the probability of another similar outage “is probably very low.”

But the airport is also considering installing cameras in utility tunnels that could detect fire or smoke. “We’ll be able to respond a lot quicker,” Council said.

Council has said it’s unclear how much backup power generators will cost, but he expects costs to be reflected in the airport’s fiscal year 2019 budget request.

In the December blackout, power cables at the airport were damaged by a fire triggered by the failure of Georgia Power switchgear equipment, resulting in the loss of power throughout the terminals and concourses starting just after 1 p.m. and lasting until close to midnight.

One of the biggest frustrations for passengers was that they struggled to get information from the airport about what was going on and how long they would be delayed. The airport has added dozens of bullhorns to its supplies to be used by workers in emergencies and is working on a “more robust” power outage plan.