Manchester Airport shut down: Resilience strategies for power outage

  • 03 Jul 2024
  • Rebecca
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On 23rd June, an early morning power cut affected Manchester Airport grounding flights from terminals 1 and 2 and causing the diversion of inbound planes.

Airport Managing Director Chris Woodroofe released the following message on social media channels:

There was a big power spike in our electrical system due to a failure earlier on this morning and that's damaged some really key equipment from our departure security and our departure baggage systems. So that’s meant that Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 haven’t been able to depart aircraft today.

As a result, we have not been able to have those aircrafts land as arrivals as there has been no space to park those aircrafts on the airfield”. [1]

Manchester Airport is the largest in the UK outside London and, by mid-afternoon, around 66 outbound and 50 inbound flights were canceled. Although airport officials requested passengers stay away from the main terminals, large queues formed outside the airport and reports suggest that 90,000 passengers were affected by the power outage that lasted into the afternoon. However, by the following day, the airport reported it was ‘operating smoothly and only “slightly busier than usual” due to re-booking passengers that had missed their flights.

Dealing with power outage is not a new risk for business continuity practitioners. The BCI Horizon Scan Report 2023 found that the second placed most disruptive event for organizations was critical infrastructure failure. However, the situation at Manchester Airport underlines how losing a critical utility is not always simple, even when back up plans are in place. Reports suggested that the airport’s back up power activated when the main power went out, but the situation became complicated when it cut out and resumed at numerous intervals, damaging equipment in the process. This led to criticism about the lack of back-up systems in place, as well as criticism about duty-of-care responsibilities to travellers[2].

However, in terms of reputational damage, Manchester Airport has so far emerged relatively unscathed thanks to a successful and almost certainly pre-planned, external communications strategy. Despite having their travel plans disrupted, passengers interviewed by news outlets were, in the most part, appreciative of their communications. Highlights were the use of staff to direct passengers (as the power outage affected display boards) and a social media strategy that apologised, explained the situation, and gave a timeframe for business as usual.

This immediate passenger feedback underlines the importance of business continuity practitioners working with communication teams to minimise reputational damage during an incident, especially in a world where reputational damage can be inflicted by anyone with a keyboard. The BCI Supply Chain Resilience Report 2023 noted how a sound reputation is a resilience strategy in itself as it can boost confidence from both customers and investors’ perspectives. This helps it to maintain a reputational advantage during difficult trading periods, but the report also notes that it is difficult to quantify damages that are intangible or tricky to measure objectively as many knock-on effects can be invisible at first.

While the Manchester Airport outage caused considerable operational disruption, the reputational and financial fallout was substantially lessened by following tried and tested – and pre-planned – techniques.

The BCI’s ten-minute Continuity and Resilience Survey closes on 8th July. Consider contributing your views to help us better understand continuity and resilience best practices across the world.  


[1] Manchester Airport | Facebook

[2] Agents left to handle fallout from Manchester airport power failure chaos | Travel Weekly

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