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dane county airport

A screen at the Dane County Regional Airport displays departure times for flights delayed by a power outage Monday morning. 

Dane County Airport operations were back to normal Monday morning after a power outage delayed about 15 flights and clogged the terminal with passengers.

The outage occurred at 5:18 a.m., darkening the terminal, ticketing and gate areas but not affecting the airfield or parking lot.

“Those remained operational throughout the power outage,” said airport spokesman Brent McHenry.

For security reasons, airport officials called in extra Dane County deputies to clear the second level of the facility, where passengers already screened by security await flights, escorting passengers with flashlights.

“That’s a normal process,” he said. “That’s something that occurs in every airport when there’s a potential for a security breach. We did not have a security breach and we did not have any security incidents.”

Officials interrupted the boarding of one flight and redirected the passengers to the terminal. At the height of the backup, he said, nearly 4,000 passengers were backed up in the terminal waiting to go through security.

“We anticipate there were probably about 2,000 in the gate area and another 1,500 or so in the ticketing lobby as they started to arrive and things weren’t moving,” he said.

Typically at 5 a.m., one of the airport’s busiest times, about 1,000 people would be moving through the ticketing and boarding process. Security officials expedited the screening process to prioritize passengers based on destination and departure times.

McHenry said the cause of the outage was still being determined.

He said the outage prompted an electronic alert to Madison Gas and Electric, which sent crews to the airport within 30 minutes. They were able to restore power shortly before 8 a.m., and flights were rescheduled to prioritize passengers left in the lurch.

McHenry said officials expected the airport to be caught up with the flight backlog by noon Monday. But officials were still urging passengers with flight times later in the day to arrive early and to check flight status with their airlines before arriving.

He said the outage was not related to the partial government shutdown and likely not caused by extreme cold that saw overnight temperatures reach their lowest point of the winter season. But he said engineers haven’t counted that possibility out.

The problem occurred with an electric delivery mechanism within the airport facility.

“We have had temperatures this cold before in Wisconsin, so we do not anticipate it to be a temperature-related thing because it’s inside the building where those connections are,” he said.

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The outage delayed about 15 departures to destinations that included Chicago O’Hare Airport, New York, Minneapolis, Detroit, Phoenix, Denver and Newark, New Jersey.

No arrivals were affected.

McHenry said airlines were working to reschedule connector flights.

“I know that each airline — Delta, United, American and Frontier — are working with their hub centers to accommodate some of those delays,” he said.

The ripple effect, he said, won’t likely be much of an issue.

“We are not a hub, so we’re not going to see the major impact we would have if an Atlanta or Detroit were to go down,” he said.

He said that the outage won’t have any economic fallout for the airport as it employs its own electricians and has a contract with MGE.

“Airline costs, I can’t speak to,” he said.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.