Houston ARTCC (1965-Active) - One of 22 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC)s in the United States. Established in 1965 near Houston, Harris County, Texas. Assigned a FAA ID of ZHU. Active FAA Air Traffic Control Center. Also known as Houston Center.
The Houston ARTCC (ZHU) was constructed in June 1965 on an 18-acre site adjacent to the George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport. Installation of automation processing equipment began in 1969 and evolved into a very complex system. The latest updates included adding a new control room and controller support wing added in 1999. In June 2000, the center transitioned to DSR (Display System Replacement) and VSCS (Voice Switching and Control System).
The Houston ARTCC is currently located at 16600 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Houston, Texas. The Houston Center covers a part of the FAA's Central service area.
The Houston Center area of responsibility consists of nearly 300, 000 square nautical miles of airspace encompassing parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and a large portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Over 150 VHF and UHF radio frequencies located at over 40 remote transmitter/receiver sites provide continuous radio coverage throughout the Houston Center area. The Houston Center has inputs from 9 long-range radar sites providing almost complete radar coverage. Some 400 square nautical miles in the Gulf of Mexico remains without radar coverage.
Navigation along more than 46,700 nautical miles of airways and routes is provided by 56 VOR/VORTAC’s (radio navigational aids). Within the Houston Center area, there are 22 FAA control towers, 16 approach control facilities, 87 major airports, and 15 military fields. Houston Center has six Operations Managers (OM’s) who provide oversight and leadership for 6 specialty areas: Austin, Lufkin, Rock Springs, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, and Lake Charles
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system of 24 FAA Area Control Centers, 20 in the lower 48 United States, one in Alaska, one in Hawaii, one in Puerto Rica and one in Guam. The system operates with radar data provided by FAA radar sites, DoD radar sites, and other federal agency radar sites. These centers provide en route and oceanic services to private, commercial, and military aircraft overflying their respective control areas. As aircraft enter or exit from one control area to the next, responsibility for the aircraft is transferred to the gaining ARTCC. Voice communication between aircraft and the ARTCCs is supported by a network of ground-air radio sites often co-located with the radar sites.
The gathering of radar, beacon and other sensor data are now largely automated and continuous, but the actions necessary to control the airspace are conversational and require some 14,000 FAA air traffic controllers talking directly to pilots in the air and on the ground at terminals. This number does not include military air traffic controllers.
Note: This list includes only long-range FAA Radar Sites listed with this ARTCC as the Overlying Enroute Center. Adjacent ARTCC sector sites are not shown and short-range terminal radar sites are not shown.
On 5 Oct 1969, an armed MIG-17 flew undetected from Cuba to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. On 26 Oct 1971, a Cuban Airliner with 19 Cuban delegates to an International Sugar Conference arrived undetected over New Orleans Moisant Airport and requested landing instructions. That flight arrived undetected by the existing string of FAA radar sites across the Gulf Coast and caused great concern. The Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09 had been closed along with many of the Air Force radar sites along the Gulf Coast by the end of 1969 and no mechanism existed to identify and intercept unidentified planes approaching from the south. None of the FAA radar sites had a height-finding capability and none had the capability to run intercepts. Both incidents sparked Congressional investigations and the Secretay of Defense directed the Air Force to establish an improved air defense system for the Southern United States.
To create the necessary capabilities the Southern Air Defense Sector (SADS) was created. The 630th Radar Squadron was activated on 1 Aug 1972 and assigned to the FAA's Houston ARTCC when the Houston Manual NORAD Control Center was completed in October 1972. The Manual direction Center operated until 1977 when the 630th was disbanded. Ten radar sites were designated to provide radar track data to the control center and to SAGE System direction centers. Two Air Force Stations that had been deactivated were reactivated and eight FAA radar stations were upgraded to include USAF FPS-6 type Height-Finder radars manned by Air Force Personnel. Congressional testimony on 23 May 1973 outlined the Air Force plan and provided details that indicated that common digitizers (FYQ-47s) were being used to transmit target data and to innterface the Height-Finder radars. A random access planned position indicator (RAPPI) was also provided at Houston. In the same Congressional testimony, it was indicated that the BUIC III at Tyndall AFB would remain operational while the other 11 BUIC IIIs would be placed in standby status "... due to limitations within the SAGE system which restricts the geographical area which can be displayed."
To intercept any unknown aircraft coming from the south the Air Force established a supersonic interceptor and alert capability of F-102's at Ellington AFB, Tucson International Airport and New Orleans in addition to the F-106's at Tyndall AFB. Costs were estimated to be 4.8 million in FY-73 and 10 million in FY-1974. The congressional testimony also established that USAF planned to have 303 military and 5 civilians authorized for the Southern Air Defense program at end of FY-1973.
As computer and communications technology evolved the southern defense merged into the national airspace plan and the deployment of 44 ARSR-4 3D radars around the perimeter of the US in the late 1990s. The fallibility of a perimeter defense plan was proven in the events of 911 and a national upgrade of the interior radar network known as the Common Air Route Surveillance Radar (CARSR) program was completed in 2015.
Active FAA facility in Houston, Harris County, Texas.