Childhood dreams, family ties and a profound desire to make a difference – these are the three things that Managing Director Susanne Hessellund from the helicopter company Bel Air in Esbjerg Airport is propelled by.
The attractive combination of familiar location in the native town Holsted, an effective region and strong family ties was the decisive factor that made Susanne Hessellund move from Jels to Holsted and establish the helicopter base Bel Air in 1997. But the dream about helicopters goes way back.
‘I actually decided to become a pilot when I was around seven or eight years old. My family and I were, by incident, driving by a test flight at Maersk in Esbjerg and I was so fascinated.’
However, Susanne’s parents where convinced that pilot training where either for military training or rich kids. But neither wealth nor military suited their family so she had to come up with a new dream.
‘As time passed I learned that this was not true and if I really wanted to be a commercial pilot, I had to find a way to pay for it myself’ Susanne Hessellund explains.
GOING AGAINST THE TIDE
During the next years Susanne worked hard to save money for pilot training, attend the Higher Preparatory Examination Course and keep all of her plans from her parents. ‘They really wanted me to find an ordinary job’ Susanne says with a smile. Everything went according to plan and at the age of 19 Susanne had saved enough money to start the theoretical part of the pilot training. However, the many years of secrecy was interrupted by a phone call to her parent’s house concerning a cancelled theory class. Fortunately they came around and eventually gave her their blessing to follow her dream.
‘I completed the training for commercial helicopter pilot in 1994 but at that time you only have around 100-150 flight hours of experience. My dream was to fly offshore helicopter at Maersk’s base in Esbjerg which requires around 1,000 hours of flying. So my then husband and I started Bel Air the same year so that I could gain enough flight hours to live my dream’ Susanne Hessellund reports.
REGIONAL AUTHORITIES MADE IT HAPPEN
It took four years before Bel Air was transformed from temporary helipad in Jels to fully functioning heliport in Holsted. The turning point was when the pilot couple decided to move to Holsted in the former Ribe County.
‘The regional authorities turned out to be very accommodating. People were interrupting their holidays to work on permits and many other things to ease the process. They were really dedicated to make things happen and it actually caused that the permits were approved in Holsted before we even began to think about Jels. Bjarne’s parents lived in Jels and mine in Holsted so we knew that we would like to live one of those places. At the time we had three children and we were both pilots’ Susanne Hessellund explains.
A DREAM CAME TRUE
In 1997 the dream came true and Susanne was hired at Maersk in Esbjerg. At the time she was co-owner of Bel Air, mother of three and back in her native town with her family. But dreams tend to change, and so did Susanne’s when Maersk Helicopters shut down in 1999. Thereafter Susanne worked at the worldwide helicopter company CHC and was here trained to be a captain.
‘I had a deep desire to be in a company where you care about your employees and each other, also when things are difficult. Therefore, I ended up leaving my safe and good job to dedicate my time 100 percent in starting up the helicopter company DanCopter in Esbjerg in order to keep my focus on the offshore industry’ the popular Managing Director states. Bel Air was still flying smaller one-motored helicopters from Holsted Heliport at that time.
FROM THE ASHES
When Susanne’s shares in DanCopter were acquired in 2007 because of disagreement in management she decided, along with her sister who also was fired from DanCopter, to see how Bel Air could develop.
‘After the dismissals my sister and I sat down over the morning coffee to discuss our future. I dreamt about gathering members from my previous team and one day they actually called us to join our new Bel Air team’ she continues.
However, the new day in Bel Air turned out to be less successful than Susanne had been dreaming about. After several tough years with red numbers the luck changed when a German/Italian investor after a visit at the helicopter base in Holsted decided to invest in Bel Air and Susanne. With the financial boost in form of financing of the first offshore helicopter at a price of DKK 80 million, Bel Air’s offshore orders in the North Sea and the company’s finances, finally made progress.
THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN MONEY
Even though Bel Air has had a growth of more than 5,500 percent over the past four years and despite the fact that Susanne Hessellund today is in the top 100 on Berlingske’s list of the richest people in Denmark, the pilot from western Jutland has never compromised on her core values: family and loyalty.
‘Solidarity and that we care about each other is very important to me. We have a strong focus on safety and take our job very seriously, but there has to be room for fun’ Susanne points out. She is proof that being considerate and decent goes very well with success.
BEL AIR’S INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT
Bel Air’s development has been phenomenal and today the company in Esbjerg attracts attention from international people.
‘Even though we are a Danish company we have many international employees who all have the opportunity to become integrated with thorough help from Esbjerg Municipality. The International School in Esbjerg also makes it easier for us to attract international employees with the right qualifications and their families’ Susanne Hessellund explains.
For Susanne it is important that Bel Air can be an extended family for the employees that are far away from home.
‘Bel Air’s motto is ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’. It means that we always find a solution. Also when it is difficult - exactly as you would do for your family. This also applies to our customers and colleagues’ she concludes.