MIAMI – Today in Aviation, the Belgian flag-carrier Société Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne or Sabena (SN) ceased operations in 2001. The final flight SN690 operated by Airbus A340-300 (OO-SCZ) touched down in Brussels (BRU) from Abidjan (ABJ) via Cotonou (COO).

Sabena took to the air on July 1, 1923, with a flight from BRU to London. The Belgian Government had established the airline following the collapse of the previous national airline NÉTA (Syndicat national pour l’étude des transports aériens).

The Boeing 707 was introduced in 1960. It formed the backbone of the airline’s long-haul operations until its retirement in the late 1970s. (Photo: Ken Fielding/https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

African Connections


The new airline was partly funded by Belgians living in the Republic of Congo. The French colony had lost its air services a year before and expected Sabena to fill the gap. So from 1925 SN commenced regular flights between BRU and various African countries.

This association with Africa continued throughout the carrier’s turbulent history. Indeed for many years, these routes were the only profitable side of the operation.

In 1990, SN was rebranded as Sabena ‘Belgian World Airlines.’ A fleet renewal plan was implemented and a new livery was introduced. However, the impact of the Gulf War and the European open-skies agreement hit the airline hard. The Belgian Government looked at finding a partner to share the burden of managing the airline.

As part of its fleet renewal, the Airbus A340 was introduced in 1993 to replace its Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s fleets. (Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 ), via Wikimedia Commons)

Swissair Partnership


In 1995 Swissair (SR) purchased 49% of Sabena as part of its “Hunter Strategy” expansion plans. A massive restructuring was set about to turn around the ailing carrier. But SR was also struggling financially with reports in 2000 estimating that both airlines were losing one million francs per day.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the final straw for both airlines. SR folded on October 2 while SN managed to limp on for another month after filing for legal protection.


Featured image: In 1994 the airline placed its largest ever aircraft order for 24 Airbus A320 family jets. (Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)