HOU Members Put In Great Effort During Storms, Power Outage
Friday, October 14, 2011

After torrential rains and lightning last Sunday knocked out all power to Houston Hobby Airport’s air traffic control tower, several NATCA members were faced with a test of both their endurance and their skills.  Fortunately for the passengers taking off and leaving the airport, they passed with flying colors.
 
Around 3:30 p.m. local time, rain seeped through to an exposed transformer and blew out the power in Hobby’s control tower. Immediately, the six controllers on duty sprang into action. Working non-stop for nearly four hours without any access to radar or communication in the tower, the controllers made sure Hobby continued to operate with limited delays.
 
They lost everything; phone lines were dead, all the screens were dark. The only things that worked were a ceiling fan and a landline phone to their weather coordinator.

Using flashlights to see as the sun went down, the controllers used their cellphones to communicate with the weather tower and approach coordinators, who relayed commands to airplanes landing and taking off. What was remarkable was that over 50 percent of the planes landed on time, with the longest delay running around 90 minutes maximum.
 
One of the controllers took down the flight plans on the landline or a cellphone and relayed them to someone else who then passed them along to the aircraft.
 
Kevin Butler, Hobby’s NATCA facility representative, was not at the tower on Sunday, but said he was proud of his team and wished he could have been present.
 
“This is kind of what you live for as an air traffic controller,” he said. “Those guys were presented with a remarkable challenge and overcame it.”
 
The power returned without notice around 7 p.m. local time. It was just in time, as the controllers were struggling to see and operate in the looming darkness. The tower was unusually overstaffed for a Sunday, which was a very lucky coincidence.
 
On top of that, they were all low on their cellphone batteries. But they got the job done.