Passengers flying in and out of Sydney are being told to expect delays after the airport’s air traffic control tower was forced to evacuate due to a fire.
Flights in and out of Sydney Airport were halted for more than an hour on Friday morning after its control tower was evacuated when smoke was detected.
All outbound flights were temporarily grounded and those coming in to land had to be diverted or maintain a holding pattern.
Airservices Australia said 20 staff from the airport’s air traffic control tower were evacuated at 11.40am (AEDT). Air traffic controllers were cleared to return to the tower just after 12.30pm, and operations returned to normal soon after.
“There will be an ongoing impact on the network but we are trying to facilitate as best we can,” Airservices Australia said.
— Jetstar Airways (@JetstarAirways) March 29, 2019
Passengers at the country’s other airports were also warned to expect delays for the remainder of Friday as the backlog of delayed planes was cleared.
The major airlines were quick to warn of delays as Sydney Airport came to a halt.
Virgin Australian wrote on Twitter: “Due to the Sydney Air Traffic Control tower being evacuated, there are currently no aircraft flying in and out of Sydney Airport. Australia tweeted”.
Former Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the tower was allowing a couple of planes to land which were “low on fuel”.
“Fire in the control tower. hoping everyone is ok :-/ they’ve let a couple of planes land that were low on fuel but nothing is leaving for the forseeable,” he posted on Twitter.
Passenger Jeremy Scott said he was on a plane that was grounded.
— Jeremy Scott (@DreamTeamJeremy) March 29, 2019
Another passenger, Tim Napier, said he expected a “slow trip home”.
“Sitting on plane, captain says “smoke in @SydneyAirport control tower, fire trucks on scene “,” Tim Napier posted on Twitter.
“Hope everyone is ok but may mean a slow trip home.”
Members of the Cronulla NRL team were also reportedly among those stranded.
Fire and Rescue NSW Inspector Bryce Jonas said the alert was sparked when fire alarms were triggered by smoke on the control tower’s ground floor. Crews used thermal imaging detectors to find the source, which appeared to be a battery back-up that had malfunctioned.
“It could have been disastrous if it was a large fire to such critical infrastructure,” Inspector Jonas said.
“They did the right thing by self-evacuating.”
At 12.40pm, staff were cleared to return to the tower, with AirServices declaring the tower was expected to become “operational within the next 10 minutes”.
Update 1:31pm – While ATC operations are back to normal, impact will continue throughout the afternoon. Pease check with your airlines for flight status. ✈️
— AirservicesAustralia (@AirservicesNews) March 29, 2019
Qantas warned flights would take some time to get back on schedule, while Virgin said its passengers also faced flow-on delays.
“We are working to get you on your way as quickly as possible,” the airline tweeted.