Fort Myers RSW Airport lost power to runway lights and diverted flights

There’s only one track Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. When, in rare cases, there is a power outage and the runway lights go out as they did on the evening of June 3, it may mean that flights have to be diverted until the lights come back on.

Two flights ended up being diverted to Tampa on June 3, according to Victoria Moreland, director of communications and marketing for the Port Authority of Lee County – American airlines Flight No. 801 and Alaska Airlines Flight No. 1491.

Moreland said in an email that tropical system tree debris that affected southwest Florida earlier this month was the cause of the outage.

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“(The debris) was impacting an FPL (Florida Power & Light) line that powers the north side of the airport to include north side tenants, pavement lighting on Chamberlain and runway lights,” Moreland said.

Moreland said it’s not common for runway lights to go out, but it’s not unprecedented. She said it was documented as having happened once in the mid-1990s and another time in December 2014.

What are the protocols that come into play when something like this happens?

“Airfield Maintenance responds for troubleshooting, diagnoses the problem and implements a solution to restore power as quickly as possible,” Moreland said. “(The airport) is also working with FPL to resolve the issue.”

Here is a timeline provided by Moreland:

9:35 p.m. — All runway lights lost

10:26 p.m. — Airfield maintenance restored the runway edge lights to temporary power.

10:34 p.m. – Aerodrome maintenance restored the runway centreline lights to temporary power.

11:00 p.m. — The first plane has landed.

Moreland said a generator was used to provide temporary power until the main line could be repaired.

Full FPL power was restored just before or around midnight on all north side panels, Moreland said.

RSW averages around 375 daily flights during the season and 200 daily off-season with 16 airlines serving 61 destinations.

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Heather Merrick, who was flying from Seattle to Fort Myers on Alaska Airlines Flight No. 1491 on June 3, contacted The News-Press and Naples Daily News via email about her experience of the power outage.

“As we descended to RSW, it was raining and dark and the flight was very bumpy,” Merrick said. “Suddenly, even though we were close to our destination, we started gaining altitude again. There was no communication from the pilots for some time (15-20 minutes). They then informed us that we hadn’t landed at RSW because the runway lights went out completely.”

Merrick now lives in Seattle, but she says she grew up in Naples.

“I had never heard of anything like this at RSW before,” she said.

Merrick added that after some time on the ground in Tampa and after the pilots confirmed with RSW staff that the lights were back on, his plane returned to RSW.

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