Societé Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne (Sabena) was the national airline of Belgium from 1923 to 2001, with its base at Brussels National Airport. After its bankruptcy in 2001, the newly formed SN Brussels Airlines took over part of Sabena’s assets in February 2002, which then became Brussels Airlines.
When Sabena was created, it was partly funded by Belgians in the Belgian Congo colony who lost their air service a year earlier and expected the new Belgian national airline to fill this gap. In 1925, therefore, Sabena pioneered its long haul across Africa to Leopoldville, capital of the Belgian Congo. Throughout its history, Sabena had a long tradition of service to African destinations. For a long time, these were the only profitable routes served by the airline.
During the war the airline managed to maintain its Belgian Congo routes, but all European services ceased. After the liberalisation of the airline industry and the Gulf War, it became apparent that Sabena had little chances to survive on its own in this very competitive market. After an airline recession and the effects on the airline industry of the September 11 attacks in 2001, all airlines that flew across the Atlantic suffered. Swissair had pledged to invest millions in Sabena, but failed to do so, partly because the airline had financial problems itself, having declared bankruptcy one month prior. Sabena operated its final flight on 7 November 2001. A group of investors managed to take over Delta Air Transport, one of Sabena’s subsidiaries, and transformed it into SN Brussels Airlines.