ATL airport woes felt in Golden Triangle

Staff Writer

The power outage that shut down the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta InternationalAirport -- the world's busiest -- rippled through airports across the country, including Golden Triangle Regional.

And it reinforced why the local airport has an extensive generator system designed to keep the airport running for days in case of power outages.

The 11-hour outage that spanned from Sunday into early Monday canceled two inbound flights from Atlanta to GTRA and one outbound flight from GTRA to Atlanta.

That impacted more than 100 passengers coming in and 50 trying to get out. GTRA Director Mike Hainsey says he is unsure how many rented cars or found other ways to Columbus.

"A number of them did because the parking lot was pretty empty this morning, so a lot of people managed to get into Atlanta and rent a car and get here to our airport parking," Hainsey said.

About 25 people apparently spent the night either in the airport or a hotel and flew in Monday morning.

The GTRA staff greeted them with cookies and refreshments.

"We knew they'd had a rough time, a very rough time. And the stories they had, everyone had one. They weren't all very good but out of it came some true Christmas spirit. I hope that's what gets told more than anything," Hainsey said.

Not only did the outage impact people in Atlanta trying to get to Columbus and vice versa, but it also stranded people in other areas who planned to fly into Atlanta.

Among them was GTRA attorney John Crowell who had to stay an extra day in Colorado before making the re-arranged journey home Monday.

"We had a lot of those, too, a lot of people like that who stayed where they were. They made the right move but it certainly added to their trip as Delta and everyone else tried to sort everything out, catch up, get people caught up," he explained. "And the luggage, oh my. The people who stayed where they were were better off because their luggage stayed with them."

Among those stories of people coming together were everyone sharing lights from the phones to portable batteries to people taking turns getting wheelchair-bound people up and down escalators one step at a time.

"Everything I was hearing from them was about people chipping in and helping each other, just like it should be," Hainsey added.

GTRA has an entire bank of generators capable of running most of the airports computers, terminal equipment and lighting, the control tower and runway and taxiway lights. The generators are checked weekly. It also has some portable generators than can be moved around as needed, depending on the circumstances.

It all was put to the test in April 2011 when a series of severe storms and tornadoes tore across Mississippi and Alabama. Main TVA transmission lines were among the things damaged, knocking out power to the airport.

"We ran then. We've gotten planes in and out before on our generators and did during those storms," Hainsey explained. "It's a pretty elaborate and comprehensive system. Even the TSA security equipment works."

The airport keeps three 500-gallon tanks of diesel on hand to fuel the generators for days and has other supplies on standby if needed.