Power Surges Led to Air Traffic Disruption : Outages: Human error is also cited in the crippling of a regional control center. A dozen John Wayne Airport flights were delayed.


Sudden power surges and possible human error were blamed Tuesday for two outages that crippled a key Southern California air traffic control center Monday night and delayed 12 flights out of John Wayne Airport.

Hundreds of passengers aboard three air taxis and nine airline flights were forced to wait after Federal Aviation Administration officials decided that incoming flights could land but that no departures would be allowed during the outages.

“We had a lot of planes on the ground for a while,” said airport spokeswoman Courtney Wiercioch. Five flights were allowed to leave after the airport’s 11 p.m. noise curfew, she said.

Between 7:25 and 9 p.m., according to the FAA, air taxis experienced delays that averaged 57 minutes, and major air carriers were held on the ground for an average of 115 minutes.

FAA officials said they were still investigating the source of the power surges, or “spikes,” that disabled circuit breakers in the radar room at Coast Terminal Radar Approach Control, located at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.


The facility is responsible for communication with incoming and outgoing aircraft below 13,000 feet over a wide area from Torrance to Oceanside and from El Toro to Santa Catalina Island.

Emergency generators worked properly, said Jim Panter, manager at Coast Tracon, but the power they generated could not be routed into the radar room for a while because circuit breakers were out.

“We have power spikes occasionally,” Panter said. “That happens in any community. But this one was just too much. . . . It fried the circuit breakers.”

Also, FAA officials said that the facility’s uninterrupted power supply, or UPS, which is supposed to stabilize power during a transfer to emergency generators, was disabled. Power was restored by routing electricity around the UPS unit, officials said.

Power to the base is supplied by Southern California Edison, FAA officials said. Ed Jones, SCE’s Orange County division manager, said electricians working for the Marine Corps were testing the UPS system when “they made an operating error.”

After Monday’s 18-minute power outage at 7:29 p.m., another outage occurred at 8:10 p.m. and lasted until 9:36 p.m.

During that period, communications with pilots was handled by air traffic controllers at the FAA’s radar center in Palmdale.

The transition worked well, FAA officials said, partly because it was part of a familiar emergency plan.