What Happens When the Power Goes Out?

Power outage at LAX underscores plans to build natural gas microgrid at Pittsburgh International

By Natalie Fiorilli

Published June 7, 2019

Read Time: 2 mins


For one of the busiest airports in the world, a power outage can cause major disruption – and that’s exactly what happened at Los Angeles International this week.

The Wednesday evening outage resulted in dozens of flight cancellations, diversions and delays. Officials at LAX said the hours-long disruption was a result of a “power bump” at an L.A. Department of Power and Water substation.

Outages like that, along with similar power failures at Washington’s Reagan International and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, have prompted some airports to consider building their own power facilities.

Pittsburgh International plans to generate energy onsite through a microgrid fueled by natural gas, said Tom Woodrow, PIT’s vice president of engineering. A microgrid is a localized network connected to larger multistate power grids that can also disconnect and operate autonomously.

Microgrids are more efficient and reduce the possibility of power outages because they generate their own energy, Woodrow said.

The airport could award a contract to build the microgrid by late summer or early fall.

“News of outages at other airports only emphasizes the importance of resiliency, which is exactly what we would be able to accomplish with a microgrid project,” he added.

Other airports evaluating the possibility of building microgrids include San Diego, along with Los Angeles and Hartsfield-Jackson.

Denver International Airport is also planning to develop a microgrid to bolster its energy reliability, after the city built a microgrid to power a transit center between the airport and the downtown area.

Outages and evacuations

LAX initially experienced power failures throughout the airport, but crews managed to restore power to six of the airport’s nine terminals within the first hour.

Elizabeth Ashford, of Santa Monica, California, was traveling home on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento Wednesday night, and said crews made an announcement about the outages after landing at LAX.

“When we landed, everything came to a screeching halt because they couldn’t deplane due to the power outage in the terminal,” she said, adding that the aircraft was held for about 40 minutes.

“I was fine on the plane, but a little concerned about what it would be like in the terminal when we got there,” Ashford said. “When we landed there was still natural light outside, and there were emergency lights on, so there was light in the terminal to an extent. It was dark, and the lights in bars and restaurants were all off. It was totally different.”

The airport restored power to all of its terminals through a backup powerline by 10 p.m. Wednesday. But operational issues continued, forcing the evacuation of Terminal 1 at 6 a.m. Thursday.

The terminal was evacuated so passengers could be rescreened through security, out of an abundance of caution, according to a statement from Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson for TSA.

One of the airlines gave passengers whose flights were cancelled access to their checked bags, leading to some prohibited items in the secure area of the airport, she said.

On Friday morning, the airport announced that its primary power source was back in operation, and that it now has access to both its primary and backup lines.

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