The Societé Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne (Belgian Corporation for Air Navigation Services) is better known internationally by the acronym SABENA, was the national airline of Belgium from 1923 to 2001, with its base at Brussels National Airport.
In the 1960’s, SABENA was mainland Europe’s first airline to operate a jet across the Atlantic. Six Caravelle jetliners were introduced on all medium-haul routes in Europe from February 1961.
The beginning of the 1960s saw a major upheaval for Sabena in the Congo. Widespread rioting against Belgian colonials in the months leading up to, and after the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caused thousands of Belgians to flee the country. The Belgian government commandeered Sabena’s entire long haul fleet to get the refugees back to Europe. Independence also meant the end of the impressive regional network of routes that the airline had built up in the Congo since 1924. When the new republic began its own airline, Air Congo, in June 1961, Sabena held 30 percent of that airline’s shares.
After its bankruptcy in 2001, the newly formed SN Brussels Airlines took over part of Sabena’s assets in February 2002, which became Brussels Airlines after a merger with Virgin Express in March 2007. The airline’s corporate headquarters were located in the Sabena House on the grounds of Brussels Airport in Zaventem.