Twenty years ago, Sabena was declared bankrupt

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That was twenty years ago, November 7, 2001. La Sabena was declared bankrupt. Flight SN690, an Airbus A340-311 registered OO-SCZ from Cotonou and Abidjan, was the last Sabena plane to land in Brussels on November 7, with 266 passengers and 11 crew members. End of the story, totally unimaginable at the time for an airline that appeared to be one of the flagships of the national economy and a legendary company in the world. Ten thousand workers were then found on the ground.

Sabena (Société Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne) was a venerable 78-year-old lady. Internationally renowned company, leading employer with 10,000 employees, 11 million passengers in 2000, 107 destinations in 48 countries. It is the positive business card.

But the Sabena were also known for their losses almost every year. The lack of vision of the State, which took control before the evil marriage with Swissair in 1995. A lack of capital, a hectic social life, a growing debt of two billion euros in the end. Especially after Swissair made a commitment to take the best, pumping out subsidiaries and passengers, sometimes with a certain madness, as with the massive purchase of 34 Airbus aircraft, which put the balance sheet definitively in the red.

The restructuring plans have not changed anything. The Swiss, heavily in debt, were the first to dive.

Bloodless, abandoned by the Belgian state tired of investing at a loss, Sabena filed for bankruptcy on November 6, 2001. Judge Anne Spiritus d’Assesse, president of the Brussels Commercial Court, declared Sabena bankrupt on November 6 at 6:30 p.m. and the State Gazette subsequently published the judgment dated November 7.

Moment of emotion this Wednesday, November 7, 2001, when the very last Sabena flight, the SN690 from Cotonou and Abidjan in Africa, is about to land on the RWY 25L at Brussels Airport. © Ivan Coninx

The government then organized a social plan, a reconversion unit with the regions responsible for “managing” what remains as the worst failure of all time.

A private company is reborn from its ashes, SN Brussels Airlines. A curatorship headed by Christian Van Buggenhout still manages the last vestiges of the company today: aircraft engines, hotels, real estate in Brussels and Congo (Hotel Memling in Kinshasa).

At the judicial level, on the Swiss side, all the leaders were acquitted. On the Belgian side, in criminal law, the story is not yet over.

The name Sabena survives in the Sabena Flight Academy, the French maintenance company Sabena Technics and the Belgian Sabena Aerospace.


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