WA - Airport outage caused by host of woes

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Power surge, bad generator keep terminal in darkness

Bert Caldwell - Staff writer

Spokane _ There was plenty of electricity at Spokane International Airport Sunday, but, like a plane lost in the fog, the power did not know where to go.

A blackout darkened the airport terminal for about two hours Sunday afternoon, inconveniencing hundreds of passengers on 13 arriving and 10 departing flights.

Spokesman Todd Woodard said the outage struck about 12:45 p.m.

An Avista Utilities capacitor bank failed, cutting off electricity to the airport as well as more than 700 homes in the Hangman Valley area.

Woodard said power sensors at the airport detected the outage and started two 1,800-kilowatt generators. Each can put power back into the airport system in 15 to 20 seconds, he said.

But within 12 seconds, rerouted Avista Utilities juice showed up, creating a surge that knocked out a critical controller located beneath the restaurant in the airport rotunda.

"It couldn't tell the Avista power where to go. It couldn't tell the generator power where to go," Woodard said.

He said he could hear the generator running from his upstairs office, but the terminal's lights remained out.

Meanwhile, a second generator located near the new C Concourse fired up, Woodard said.

The diesel unit is fueled from a 150-gallon tank inside the terminal. That tank, in turn, is fed from a 3,000-gallon external reservoir.

Two pumps transfer the fuel.

Woodard said a rotor on one of those pumps failed, and the generator was consuming fuel faster than the single pump could move fuel into the smaller tank.

That unit shut down.

Woodard said the airport's electrician was at church when the blackout started. He did not arrive at the terminal until about 1:45 p.m.

The electrician reset the controller manually, Woodard said, and power was restored at about 2:15 p.m.

He noted that the generator located near B Concourse, which was installed in response to an outage created by the 1996 ice storm, has fired up twice since last summer with no problem.

The C Concourse unit had not been live-tested, he said.

Woodard stressed that airplane passenger safety was never compromised. The runway lights and air traffic control tower run off separate systems, he said.

The defective pump has already been replaced, Woodard said. New software for the controller will be delivered as e-mail by the end of the week.

The system will be monitored manually until the software arrives, he said.

All the equipment involved in the outage is under warranty, Woodard said, so costs to the airport should be minimal.


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), January 24, 2001

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