Sabena Airlines' porcelain service ( First Class ), decorated with L'oiseau de ciel ( René Magritte )
At the end of the First World War, the S.N.E.T.A. ( Syndicat National pour l’Étude du Transport Aérien ) considers the creation of commercial lines in both Europe and Africa. In 1920, this initiative becomes reality from Haren Airport ( Brussels, Belgium ), with the launch of an civil air fleet made up of military aircraft reconverted into civil airliners, which criss - crossed Europe ( Brussels - London and Brussels - Paris routes ) and the Belgian Congo colony ( opening of a Léopoldville - Stanleyville section ).
Building on successes generated during this first leg, the S.N.E.T.A. promotes the adoption - by the Belgian government - of a plan to create a national airline in charge of taking over the present aerial legacy, and to expand it as well. Thus was born the Société Anonyme Belge d'Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne ( S.A.B.E.N.A., May 23rd, 1923 - November 7th, 2001 ) - that we all know by the acronym Sabena - to which a new mission is assigned : to operate aerial links between Belgium and the Belgian Congo.
Between February 12th and April 3rd, 1925, the aviators Edmond Thieffry ( 1892 - 1929 ), Léopold Roger and Joseph De Brycker managed to ferry their three - engined Handley Page W.8e, nicknamed " Princesse Marie - José ", from Brussels to Léopoldville ( present - day Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo ). This exploit will be the beginning of future development of very important air links between Belgium and the African continent ( creation of the Belgium - Congo airline in 1935 ).
In 1929, Sabena is notably equipped with aircraft of type Fokker for its European operation network, as well as Savoia - Marchetti with regard to Africa. After the outbreak of the Second World War ( September 1st, 1939 ), the invasion of Belgium ( from May 10th to May 28th, 1940 ) marks the suspension of the airline activities on the national territory,... but not in Belgian Congo !
After 1945 and the defeat of the Axis forces, Sabena resumed its activities, and this in a very important pattern of commercial air transport. Under the leadership of Anselme " Selmo " Vernieuwe D.F.C. ( 1916 - 1984 ) - bomber pilot in the R.A.F. during the war - many Belgian R.A.F. and S.A.A.F. airmen come " to swell the ranks ", including Georges " Poupa " Jaspis D.F.C. ( 1916 - 2007 ), Robert " Bobby " Laumans ( 1920 - 2014 ), Guy " Kéké " Gigot ( 1922 - 1982 ) and Fernand " Ferdie " Jaumoulle ( 1921 - 2020 ). With the generalisation of hostesses on board, including Amanda " Mouchka " Stassart ( 1923 - 2013 ), the airline acquired DC - 4s, DC - 6s and DC - 7s, then entered the jet engine age with the Boeing 707, followed by the DC - 10 and the Boeing 747.
From 1946 to its declaration of bankruptcy, the Belgian national airline has never ceased to extend its network across four continents, with a particular focus on the African routes. However, in spite of its many activities, Sabena has never been a very profitable commercial enterprise. Despite many efforts, by practising budget cuts and in terms of human resources, the enterprise will be unable to eliminate its liabilities and will be declared bankrupt on November 7th, 2001. Swissair ( its main partner ) also declared itself bankrupt just before.
In 2002, SN Brussels Airlines succeeded the late Sabena and, in November 2006, announced its " marriage " with Virgin, to form a new airline : Brussels Airlines.
( sources : Wikipedia, Ciel de Gloire, Geneanet, www.350sqn.be, www.aviation-photographie.net, www.cairn.info, www.belgiumwwii.be, www.auschwitz.be )