Air Route Traffic Control Center, or better known as “CENTER”
ARTCCs are what make up the vast majority of our NAS. They cover all the airspace that is “controlled airspace” (class E or better) and the airspace not controlled by Towers or TRACON. Keep in mind just because you are in Class E “controlled airspace” does not necessarily mean ATC can see you on RADAR. Since CENTER covers such large areas, you often have to be at least 3,000′ agl or more before you can even hope to appear on their RADAR screens. REMEMBER: When flying in Class G or “un-controlled airspace”, ATC takes absolutely no responsibility for your separation with terrain and other traffic, it’s all on you! This is why it is so important to fly published procedures when departing within Class G airspace or when not talking with ATC. We’ll cover safe departure procedures later in this course!
There are 22 ARTCCs in the United States. Each “CENTER” is broken up into even smaller sectors based upon both lateral and vertical borders. This is to keep the workload evenly distributed among ARTCC controllers since there are obviously some very busy corridors of airspace out there and then also very large blocks of airspace with relatively little traffic.
Center controllers rarely get to see the light of day. Since they are strictly looking at RADAR screens or “scopes” they spend their time in buildings like the one on the right with little or no windows. Again, much of their workload is communicating with other “CENTERs” and other Sectors within their own CENTER.
Probably the strangest thing about “CENTERs” is the name for them. Not the names you call them, like Atlanta Center or Chicago Center, but the 3 letter identifiers for each (see chart below). While there is absolutely no sense in you trying to remember any of those identifiers, it is important that you are able to recognize when reading something like a PIREP, CWA, or other textual information, that if you see three letters together that seem to make absolutely no sense, it may actually be the CENTER that issued that warning or information.