OR Tambo electricity supply affected by Eskom substation fire

UPDATE: OR Tambo Blackouts: Airport to run more simulations of longer power outages      

Today, following the OR Tambo blackouts that occurred this past Sunday, General Manager of OR Tambo International Airport, Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana said in a statement that "Every real-time disruption reveals some fresh challenges that cannot be anticipated in business continuity plans. Therefore, as part of adapting our responses, the airport will now do three things:   

"First, run more simulations of longer power outages to understand the impact on infrastructure; second, re-assess all systems and areas that are regarded as essential services with a view to providing additional capacity from back-up generator supply; and third, re-evaluate the synchronisation and sequencing of generators to maintain power during supply restoration.  

"Management of OR Tambo International Airport understands the frustrations of people at times such as this and we thank passengers and airport visitors for their understanding.   

"We are also most appreciative of the support provided by everyone working in the airport environment. Their efforts helped to mitigate the effects of the disruption and enabled the efficient return to normal operations once power had been restored.  


UPDATE: Generators kicked in immediately, but reactivation happened in phases - Acsa spokesperson on OR Tambo blackouts

Samukelo Khambule, Corporate Affairs Specialist at Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) told Traveller24 that "Our generators kicked in immediately after the power interruption. The resetting and reactivation of equipment and all various systems happened in phases to avoid any risks during power restoration.

"Some times during the switch-over process we prevent the risk of repeat interruptions by checking equipment integrity for safe use before switching back supply. This would lead to a delayed restoration of power. It is also to avoid damage to equipment and systems." 

Yesterday, South Africa's busiest airport, OR Tambo International Airport was hit by area-specific blackouts when an Eskom substation fire broke out nearby. Social media lit up with images and videos of passengers struggling to find their baggage in the dark. Many asking why generators didn't kick in when the blackout hit: 

The General Manager of OR Tambo International Airport, Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana said in a statement that "Management, technical and engineering staff of OR Tambo International Airport have completed an assessment of the circumstances that led to power disruptions at the airport on Sunday 12 January.  

"In the context of claims on social media and incorrect information published by some media titles, it is essential to describe the events of Sunday, their causes and the airport’s emergency systems.  

"As a National Key Point, the airport is licensed and regulated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). We adhere to global standards for critical infrastructure systems back-up to ensure the safety and security of passengers going through our airport.  

"We have 45 generators which can operate for three days. We also have a large number of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units that keep engineering and IT systems running when power is disrupted, giving generators the time required to start up.  

"In spite of the power interruption, the airport ecosystem handled 571 flights with more than 71 000 passengers and 39 000 departing bags processed. Twenty flights and 530 bags were affected by the power interruption, with delays averaged at 30 minutes for the flights concerned.   

The sequence of events  

A total loss of power from Eskom was reported at 10.24am. 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.  Critical services such as fuelling, baggage handling, water supply, instrument landing system and aircraft navigational aids were not affected. The airside network comprising of airfield ground lighting systems supplied by separate UPS systems and generators, was not affected.  

"The process of restoring Eskom loads ran from 12.40pm to 13.05pm. 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.  Impact on systems  Back-up generators supplied uninterrupted power to the following areas:

• Domestic terminal and critical systems necessary for passenger processing;

• Airport fuelling system;

• Airfield navigational aids;

• Instrument landing system and aircraft navigational aids; 

• Weather observation systems;

• Airfield ground lighting systems;

• Some people movers for vertical circulation and parking management systems; and

• Emergency lighting.   

The following systems were partially affected during the interruption:

• Vehicle parking systems;

• People movers not on essential supply;

• Non-emergency terminal lighting;

• Retail outlets such as banks, restaurants and shops; 

 • IT systems and some related wire centres;

• International baggage handling system; and

• Public address system.  


South Africa's busiest airport's electricity supply has been affected after a substation burst into flames - causing a disruption to the airport's operations.

The cause of the fire is unknown at this stage but the City of Ekurhuleni tweeted a video of the fire and confirmed the areas affected include OR Tambo International Airport; Isando & Spartan Industrial; Kempton Park CBD; Aston Manor and Bonaero Park. 

Traveller24 contacted Airports Company South Africa to confirm which operations were hit - with reports of some baggage conveyor belts affected.

Acsa spokesperson Betty Maloka confirmed the disruption on Sunday morning saying, "Power has now been restored throughout all terminals, though some other shops and banks are still closed. Crucial places like immigration and security, baggage operations are normal." 

Maloka detailed where baggage handling had been affected the airport opted to use manual loading, "especially for flights that were needing to depart". 

"We have also deployed more personal on the ground to assist passengers during this time."

READ: Security at OR Tambo stays on high alert | Why a boy with a snake T-shirt was stopped at the boarding gate

In a previous query about the effects of Load Shedding at SA's major airports, Acsa detailed its back-up plans for ensuring essential travel services at SA's main airports when the power supply is interrupted. 

"All nine of Acsa's airports have the ability to operate on diesel generators covering essential loads for between 18 and 72 hours.  There are established routes for supply of diesel to international airports. All airports have diesel on hand."   

Essential load services include:

  • navigational aids;
  • check-in counters;
  • fuel systems;
  • passenger loading bridges (PLBs);
  • baggage handling systems (BHS);
  • central search points (CSPs);
  • lighting

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