By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
About 40 miles up the road from the spring-fed swimming pool oasis of Balmorhea State Park is another oasis at the Pecos Municipal Airport (KPEQ). Travelers to this airport may indulge in some fresh brisket tacos, lounge in the charming, restored terminal building, or sit in the backyard in the shade watching planes land. That’s what I did when I stopped in for an early summer visit with longtime airport manager Isabelle de Brouwer.
Isabelle, who still has an accent after all these years of being in West Texas, was born in Tanzania and raised in Kenya. Her passion for making aviation her life led her to the United States.
“When we lived in Kenya, our family would fly to Belgium [where her family was originally from] once a year and it was such an exciting trip! I loved everything that had to do with flying,” explained Isabelle.
When Isabelle started pursuing her professional pilot’s license, the flight school in Kenya suggested that she move to the United States where she would have more opportunities to further her career.
“Opportunity brought me to Texas,” said Isabelle. “My father was very supportive of me flying. The flight school in South Carolina sponsored me to stay in the states, and I started working in Beaumont and then Monahans. Then I leased an airplane and started a flight school of my own in Wink and then Pecos.”
Though Isabelle was a half world away from where she was raised, Pecos and the surrounding region felt like home.
“Kenya is about the size of Texas, and areas of it look just like the Davis Mountains,” said Isabelle. “To this day, when I drive around the Davis Mountains, it’s uncanny; I just sort of flash back that I might see a herd of elephants on the side of a mountain.”
For the first few years in Pecos, Isabelle ran her flight school and co-managed the airport with an elderly couple. When the couple decided to retire, Isabelle threw her name in the hat to become the next airport manager.
“I was only 23 at the time and was not a U.S. citizen,” explained Isabelle. “So the city council took a risk, I suppose, in hiring me.”
Her first task at the airport was to tend to the basics: clean up the existing infrastructure and prioritize future needs.
“The first time I soloed someone here, I was standing at the intersection of two runways watching him, and there were weeds growing in the cracks of the runway taller than I was,” said Isabelle.
Fast forward 30 years and it’s hard to imagine the airport ever being in that condition. As we buzzed around the airport in her historic motorcycle and sidecar, she noted the one remaining shrub left in the field between the runways as an homage to the past. Currently the airport is in the process of upgrading its fencing for security purposes and building hangars.
“You just start with the most important things — if you don’t have the pavement, if you don’t have the runway, then you don’t have an airport,” explained Isabelle. “Everything else you just make do with until you get to them. It takes a long time and persistence.”
And an airport manager who is dedicated to providing a positive experience for those who visit, and who understands the positive economic impact the airport provides.
“We have the ability to cater to business jets and smaller aircraft that every day bring to our community people with different services, talents, ideas and of course money!” said Isabelle.
For more information about the Pecos Municipal Airport, visit its website at http://www.townofpecoscitytx.com/index.aspx?NID=82.
Pecos Airport Facts
Elevation: 2,613 ft (796.4 m)
Location: 2.00 miles southwest of Pecos
Instrument Procedures: VOR, RNAV, GPS
Runways: 09/27, 14/32
Longest paved runway: 6,236 ft
In August 1928, Amelia Earhart flew across America, stopping in Pecos overnight and then completing her transcontinental record flight.
Pecos Municipal Airport covers 771 acres.
In the 1950s, a small commuter airline, Trans Texas Airways, flying the ever-popular DC-3, made regular stops at the Pecos Municipal Airport. The existing terminal building was built to accommodate this activity.
First Flight, an Air Ambulance business providing Air Ambulance transfers and 9-1-1 service for both Pecos and Reeves County, is based at the airport.
About 500 people a month fly into the airport.