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Why It's Paramount Airports Have Reliable Switchgear

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Switchgear is the centralized protection and control for the generators, motors, lines, transmissions and feeders of a medium-voltage system. These compact systems make and secure the electrical connections between substations and homes and businesses. Switchgear is what ensures you have power when you need it. So it is no wonder that airports depend on reliable switchgear. Read on to learn more about the importance of switchgear and the airport functions it supports.

Switchgear Keeps Flights Running
Gas insulated switchgear is the backbone of airport functions. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the three busiest airports in the world, servicing over 110 million passengers in 2019. Like most large airports its electrical demands are supplied by two substations. In 2017 when switchgear to the airport not only failed but caught fire the airport was plunged into blackness. The backup power equipment which should have come online was housed too close to the primary power and was also damaged. The upshot was an airport without power for 11 hours, over 1,500 canceled flights and 30,000 people stranded. It is estimated that the outage cost Delta, which is based in Atlanta, nearly $50 million. As Atlanta found out, it's not only important to have reliable switchgear but to place it effectively. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport had actually planned for just such a contingency, investing in backup power from geographically separate distribution sources. Their provider had even spent $40 million to increase reliability. Part of reliability is planning ahead for the worst. Having flights running on time isn't just important for the reputation and income of the airlines. Delays in flights mean that people with medical conditions are at risk. One passenger caught up in the delays noted that not being able to get home on time meant that her elderly aunt would have to find a way to get to her kidney dialysis appointment without any aid. People are unable to leave the airport because they don't know when power will be restored, but nothing works. Vending machines run on electricity, the kitchens in airport restaurants run on electricity. Without those options, passengers with diabetes were at increased risk of insulin shock. There is simply no upside to the airlines or passengers when switchgear fails.

Switchgear Supports Safety Features
Besides the impact to airlines and passengers, a power failure has wider implications for the safety features on which airports rely. For airports, electricity is more than lights and air conditioning for passengers. A steady electrical supply is vital to providing the safety and security features every airport needs. Thankfully, during the Atlanta airport blackout, the air control tower was on a separate power supply, Their operations still suffered though, because the terminal equipment wasn't working. Planes also weren't able to land or take off because runway lights were out. While it was inconvenient for travelers waiting for flights it meant those on incoming flights were diverted to other airports, increasing traffic at adjacent airports. Planes that had just landed often had to sit on the tarmac for hours—up to six hours—leaving passengers thirsty and uncomfortable. Of course, the passengers inside weren't having the holiday they'd expected either. Heating and air conditioning were out and bathrooms were lit with nothing but phone flashlights. A sudden plunge into stygian blackness can cause panic in crowded airports and allows people engaging in theft or other illicit behavior the darkness to get away with their actions. A power loss also means that security checkpoints are shut down. It can only be hoped that no one uses the downtime as a way to subvert the security checks in place.

Switchgear is the key to providing airports with steady and reliable electricity. If any airport is wondering about the value of reliable switchgear built with an eye to redundancy and geographic isolation of multiple setups, it needs only to look back to the 2017 fiasco in Atlanta to see the far-reaching impact shoddy switchgear can have on its operations.

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