With focus and her AT-602, Brenda Watts hasn’t encountered a challenge big enough to ground her.
Deliberate, calculated, precise. Brenda Watts runs her Arkansas aerial application operation with the same precision with which her longtime pilot flies their AT-602 Air Tractor. “You’ve got to be determined, you’ve got to be totally focused, you’ve got to know what you want to do, and you’ve got to take command of your operation,” says Brenda.
That’s exactly how she has built a 20+ year legacy as an ag operator and owner of K & P Flying Service. And mind you, she has done so as one of only a very few woman-owned operations in the industry. This isn’t a business where idleness is tolerated; there is always something that needs to be done. And there is no room for missteps or failure.
“You just have to be determined and say, I can do this, because it’s not easy. It’s a hard job, and it’s ongoing all the time.”
You respect your equipment and your people.“That’s a beautiful airplane and I am real fussy about it,” Brenda adds, pointing at the AT-602 sitting in front of the hanger at her operation in Watson, AR. “And you’ve got to love your equipment and take care of it because that’s what’s gonna keep you or your pilots safe.” Brenda is focused. She’s always there for her crew and for her customers. It’s been that way for more than two decades, which has earned her the respect of the farmers she serves and other operators across the nation.
With Knowledge and Precision
K & P Flying Service has been a staple in the Arkansas ag application industry since it was founded in 1995. The company was initially named for Brenda’s first husband Phil – “P”, and her son Kelly, who was the company’s first pilot and contributed the “K” to the name. However, today “K & P” stands for “Knowledge and Precision.” Those are the attributes Brenda contributed to her company.
The flying service was founded as a family business. At the time, Kelly was farming, but he had his eyes on the skies working as a flagger for ag applicators. He learned to fly a small plane on the family farm. After he earned his commercial pilot’s certificate, the family bought their first Air Tractor plane and started their application service. Kelly was the pilot. Brenda ran the office, scheduling jobs, learning about crop protection products and connecting with customers. A few years in, however, her son left the business and the future was uncertain.
Brenda made the commitment to go all in.
“I’d been here all my life, and so I decided ‘I can do this, I’m going to do it, I’m gonna make it work,’ and I did.”
Brenda took over as the sole owner of K & P Flying Service in 1999. First order of business was tightening the operation. She consolidated from three aircraft to one. An AT-602 was the logical choice to amp up the operation’s productivity and profitability. Nimble enough for the smaller jobs, and with enough payload to run large jobs efficiently, the plane was perfect for the size of the operation Brenda was running.
Brenda also needed to secure new financing. She sought a loan from the local bank to purchase the AT-602. However, the bank wouldn’t give her the money, unless she would put her family’s farmland up for collateral.
“I was not going to give them everything I had.”
She was going to make it on her own terms.
The early years weren’t easy. Aerial application being the seasonal business it is, Brenda had to explore different opportunities to keep the plane in the air year round. She went after forestry fertilization contracts. From November through March, her aircraft would fertilize trees before resuming crop applications in the spring. That meant long hours for everybody on the team, including herself. Although K & P Flying Service no longer does forestry applications, Brenda not only supported her business through the partnership with forestry services, but she also met her current husband at an industry function. So the deal worked out for her in more ways than one.
“After a few years of hard struggles and marrying Rick Watts, life has been great for me, and I’m a happy camper at K & P flying service,” Brenda says with a smile.
Every Sunrise is a New Opportunity
Brenda’s work ethic and drive helped her shepherd the operation into a new era. It’s simple, she explains. You do what you have to do. Every minute the airplane is in the air means it’s making money, so you can pay your crew and your vendors.“ During the season, you can forget sleeping, and you’ve got to know that at the end of the season you can sleep all you want,” she says. “You got to be ready to go when the farmer calls and turns in an order, you’ve got to be sitting at the flying service waiting on the chemical to be delivered because you don’t want to wait until the next morning,” Brenda says.
Naturally, you need a team that works like a well-oiled machine. Her pilot Don Glasscock has been working for her for 16 years. “Don’s great with the farmers, he’s easy on my airplane,” Brenda says. But she’s been as loyal to her crew as she’s been to her equipment.“ Take care of them, because they’re the life of your operation,” she will say.
In turn, her customers have been loyal to her. You may find Brenda cracking a joke with the farmers, or feeding her crew a home-cooked meal, but when it comes to the operation, she is all business. Uncompromising.
Leading from the front; 110% the boss
Brenda won’t take shortcuts on her equipment, or how she runs things. “That could save your life or your pilot’s life. I don’t cut corners. I may not have money to buy lipstick, but I will have money to pay my maintenance bill.” Safety, commitments and maintenance are not up for negotiation.
These are the attributes that made her business a success.
It’s also what made her an effective leader within the National Agricultural Aviation Association. In 2016, she became the first female president of NAAA, and she continues to be active in her state association and on the national stage. For her, being a woman in charge is not about shattering glass ceilings, but rather about passion for the issues affecting ag aviation today. “I am in a man’s world, and I don’t want to be treated like a woman. I want to stand on my own two feet and know that I am as equal as they are in our industry—and don’t treat me any different than you do Joe down at the end of the table. You treat me just like you do Joe.”
Brenda certainly has earned the respect of any Joe, while motivating other women in the industry. “I tell my story and show them that yes, they can do this,” she says. It’s a demanding job, but there isn’t a business she’d rather be in.
“You see some beautiful people and beautiful places in our wonderful country. For me to be involved in that is a real honor, and for me to have an Air Tractor, I love it.”
Come tomorrow, Brenda again will be up for the challenge. And so will her crew, and her AT-602.