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Power restored at Austin airport after hours-long outage

The airport initially reported the power outage around 5:15 a.m. Wednesday.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Energy has restored power in the main terminal of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) after an hours-long outage early Wednesday morning.

The airport initially reported the power outage around 5:15 a.m. Wednesday. The outage did not force any evacuations, but no flights were departing as crews worked to find the cause of the outage and restore power.

An airport official confirmed that power remained on in the south terminal.

Austin Energy crews arrived on the scene to assist airport staff in assessing the power outage. Austin Energy explained that in an electric system, there are multiple circuits and if there's an issue, it's called a fault. Crews use fault indicators to help locate and isolate the fault, and then they can fix the issue and reenergize the line.

As of 8 a.m., the airport said power has been restored to the main terminal. The TSA had begun screening passengers, and the airport was working with the Austin Police Department to reopen roadways.

As of 10:30 a.m., the roadways are open and flights were taking off. However, travelers were still encouraged to check their flight status before heading out to the airport as delays are expected to continue.

Airport officials pinpointed the outage to just before 4:30 a.m. with terminal power restored at 7:15 a.m. and the full power back by 8 a.m.

The cause of the outage is believed to be an underground equipment malfunction. A three-piece component is believed to be the cause right now, and an "autopsy" is being conducted on the equipment to figure out what caused the failure. At this point, a spokesperson said it could be a "multitude of things." 

Crews were sent to pinpoint the issue and fully replace the parts. They do not expect any problems with the new equipment.

Officials called the outage a "catastrophic failure," saying they monitor energy to the airport 24 hours a day and can typically see current drops, but that the outage happened instantly without warning.

One question KVUE viewers had was why there appeared to be no backup generators to continue to power the airport in the event of a power outage. According to an airport spokesperson, the main terminal is equipped with multiple generators that supply power for critical systems, including ingress and egress lighting to help staff and passengers see in the dark, fire detection and alarms, the overhead PA system and security functions.

The spokesperson said these generators are triggered automatically or manually, depending on the incident. Because Wednesday's power failure impacted the entire airport campus, AUS said the generators had to be manually turned on, "which accounts for the time between the lights going out and the auxiliary lights coming back on."

"The power failure was so large in scale that it required airport staff to be dispatched to the generators to manually start them up, which we did as soon as possible," the spokesperson said. "Once the generators were manually started, they did work as intended."

Surya Santoso is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Texas. 

He said this particular equipment is known to fail if it's not maintained. 

"Usually, that is also the weakest part of the cable at the elbow and the joints," said Santoso. "So perhaps more proactive maintenance could be could be done."

University of Texas professor Joshua Rhodes said all critical infrastructure, like hospitals, should have multiple grid connections to avoid these situations altogether.

"So in case one goes down, then it can still operate with the other, but that doesn't appear that's the case necessarily with the airport," said Rhodes.

Austin Energy said there are multiple airport power feeds and multiple agencies investigating what happened.

Another question on Wednesday was whether APD or AUS made the decision to close off parts of Highway 71, including exits to the airport, during the outage. AUS said the Department of Aviation initiated road closures to keep the airport secure and APD assisted with keeping those closures in place and directing traffic.

AUS said it did not close off parts of Highway 71, but the roadways into the airport campus were closed in an effort to prevent more passengers from arriving to the airport while the power was still off.

APD also issued a statement on the closures: 

"Closing the entry of the airport was a joint effort that involved both APD officers and AUS Maintenance personnel. Officers considered every option during this event. The more prudent thing was trying to get traffic moving."

No additional information is available at this time.

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