In the parking lot, there is a large white Vestfalia camper van. It is a symbol of freedom and everything that is not everyday life, even though we are only around a 10 minute drive from the centre of Herning. Surrounded by potato fields, rosehips and fireweed, and just by Herning Airport.
Stephan Erlandsen greets you in a pilot shirt and classic Ray-Ban sunglasses. The ones pilots wear in films. It is not just for show either, because Stephan Erlandsen is, in fact, a pilot. He has his own company, built from a dream. He has been running Herning Helicopters since the spring of 2017, only stopping to take two weekends off and three days of summer vacation in that entire time. “I simply cannot get enough, This year…..pheeew”, he says – and shows us around the base in Skinderholmvej, where his neighbour is Herning Airports and the skydive center Drop Zone.
One man, one helicopter and one ambition
As a freelance pilot, Stephan Erlandsen saw a gap in the market, and at the age of 31 and with plenty of support from his family, he chose to follow his dream and open Herning Helicopters with just one single helicopter on his books. Today, he has four full-time employees, seven freelance pilots and activities in Aalborg, Randers, Karup, Esbjerg, Kolding, Odense, Roskilde and Herning. “It requires an insane amount of hard work – and a certain amount of luck”, Stephan Erlandsen admits.
From his base in Herning, he plans the rides involving air taxis, tourist tours, and cargo freight. The passengers vary from day to day. “It could be anyone from lawyers and private people, to coffee machines and temperature sensors for airplanes. Things that need to be transported quickly back and forth.” Whether it is business people, pop stars or tourists sitting in the passenger seats, it is all about providing a good experience.
“My primary task is to make sure that I have happy customers. If people leave smiling – then I’ve achieved something, and it makes my day”.
A boy from Snejbjerg
Stephan Erlandsen was originally trained within retail, but his business sense was already plain to see before. He worked as an independent engineer and trained as a helicopter pilot at Billund Air Centre. He is from a family of retailers and grew up in the Herning suburb of Snejbjerg. So, it is not by accident that his company is based in the 7400 area code. “I have lived in Billund and Copenhagen, but I always came back to Herning. This is where my roots are, and this is where I felt I could try to make my dream happen”, he says. “From the air, Herning and all the suburbs look like one big city. And that is also what makes Herning special. We are good at sticking together, we are good at doing everything together in the spirit of solidarity, we are good at supporting each other, and everyone contributes with what they can.”
The skydiving community
The facilities located in Skinderholmvej on the northern outskirts of Herning are shared with a close partner, the skydiving centre Dropzone Denmark. Skydiving and helicopters side-by-side is an attraction in itself. “Anyone from multi-millionaire app developers, to very young boys who have just got their first moped, come here to try skydiving – we see a huge range of people,” Stephan Erlandsen says. The skydiving instructors travel to Herning from as far as Brazil to spend the summer in the unique environment that is characterised by unity and grown men and women, getting the chance to act as children. Probably because you create a unique bond in the community when you skydive. Actually, also when you fly in a helicopter.
Important to stay grounded
Maybe it is the laid-back environment among the sky diving enthusiasts or the air in the central region of Jutland, that makes Stephan Erlandsen so grounded, it’s difficult to say. It started with a dream that has grown – and a newer and bigger helicopter has been ordered. Yet, it is still about classic virtues to Stephan Erlandsen. “Even though you are up in the clouds, you still have to stay grounded and sense the situation – you cannot go around thinking that you are all that”.
With a pilot shirt on and sunglasses on his forehead, Stephan Erlandsen gets ready to receive another group of clients, whom he greats with an enormous smile. “As long as you have your health, some food on the table and a small house to go home to, then everything is indeed fantastic”.