Why the lights went out at OR Tambo airport

OR Tambo International Airport has released a statement outlining why it suffered power disruptions on 12 January 2020.

“A total loss of power from Eskom was reported at 10:42,” the airport said.

“Our business continuity plans were activated. Back-up generators took over and various engineering and IT systems were reset at this point, the equivalent of re-booting.”

The airport clarified that critical services – including fueling, baggage handling, water supply, airfield ground lighting systems, and aircraft navigational aids – were not affected by the outage.

This is because all of these systems were powered by back-up generators, ensuring they were supplied with uninterrupted power.

Restoring power

“The process of restoring Eskom loads ran from 12:40 to 13:05,” OR Tambo said.

“The transition from generator to mains and back is not seamless as loads are restored in phases. Some systems require 30 minutes and more before they are again fully operational.”

The airport added that systems partially affected by the Eskom outage included vehicle parking systems, non-emergency terminal lighting, retail outlets, IT systems, and the international baggage handling system.

OR Tambo said as part of adapting its responses to such situations, it will do three things in the future:

  • Run more simulations of longer power outages to understand the impact on infrastructure.
  • Re-assess all systems and areas that are regarded as essential services with a view to providing additional capacity from back-up generator supply.
  • Re-evaluate the synchronisation and sequencing of generators to mains power during supply restoration.

OR Tambo management said it understood the frustrations of travellers during such situations and thanked airport visitors for their understanding.

Arrivals in darkness

Commuters who were left in darkness at the airport posted photos and videos of the situation on social media, shown below.

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Why the lights went out at OR Tambo airport