PIA777
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Sabena's Demise

Sun Sep 05, 2004 12:47 pm

Just got done watching a show on Sabena Belgium Airlines. I caught the last parts of the show, it was on some World news channel with English subtitles and they were talking about its bankruptcy and they also showed the final flight as this previously posted picture shows:


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Photo © Pieter Declerck



They interviewed a very emotional flight crew of this last flight. The First officer talked about his 5 kids and a mortgage. He later killed himself
a couple of months after the last flight. It was very Sad.

PIA777

GO CUBS!!
 
Blake
Posts: 27
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Sabena's Demise

Sun Sep 05, 2004 6:11 pm

Although the pilot's suicide was very sad, especially for his wife, a Sabena FA, and his kids, statiscally speaking it is very "average" to find people taking their own lives after seeing their dream-carreers vaporize.

Sabena's demise already makes good reading in various books, if you master Dutch or French.....

Anyhow...the major players in the demise all walked away from their responsibilities...and that too is very sad. Getting people to justice won't bring the FO back, but it would make for a better balance.

Alitalia probably next...
 
sn26567
Posts: 129
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Sabena's Demise

Sun Sep 05, 2004 7:27 pm

There were two organisations responsible for the demise of Sabena: the Belgian Government, which owned 51%, never took its responsibilities, and Swissair, which took away all the valuable assets of Sabena - and even that did not help them avoid their own bankruptcy.
ex-Sabena #26567
 
TUNisia
Posts: 1515
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Sabena's Demise

Sun Sep 05, 2004 10:28 pm

I too just watched this documentary last night on LINK TV. It was quite sad to say the least. The music that they chose to use throughout the documentary was fitting. I wish there was a documentary like this made for TWA. Anyways, did anyone notice in that picture above when you view it as large and look through the cockpit windows on the left side you can see the same people from the TV documentary... sad.

:[

TUNisia

[Edited 2004-09-05 15:29:19]
Someday the sun will shine down on me in some faraway place - Mahalia Jackson
 
AZA330
Posts: 206
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Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 5:19 am

Sabena was a great airline. I had on board of one of their A330-300 one of the best flights of my life so far. It was a great flight. I was very very sad when they showed on the news here in Italy the last flight landing in Bruxelles. If I remember it was an A330. But I didn't know about the captain...this is really sad...
Ciao
 
RCS763AV
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 6:11 am

The last flight was an A340-300 coming from Africa. Very sad indeed, Belgium is my second country, as i am Colombian and Belgian thanx to my grandma who was born in Brussels.
 
bennett123
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 8:44 am

Is it true that SN never made a profit.
 
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Starlionblue
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 9:15 am

Goodness knows if they ever made a profit.

In any case their simulator facility is still up and running. It has always, and still does, run with a profit.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
LastBaron
Posts: 269
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 9:23 am

SN made good profits in the 1950s and 1960s. Back in "the day," SN was a world-class act. By the 1980s, SN had become a behemoth so large, it was in many ways a liability for the Belgian government, which must have breathed a sigh of relief when a carrier of no less stature than Swissair came in as a "white knight." Hence the disbelief in so many parts of the world when Swissair crumbled and took SN down the drain with it. A pity, indeed, and sad to see the revived SN Brussels right now seems to be just another Eurocarrier. When will they come back to the US? It would very be nice to see the birds with the big S on their tails here again...

[Edited 2004-09-06 02:24:10]
 
iakobos
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 9:52 am

With a very few exceptions, SN did not show profits.
Sabena World Airlines was a state enterprise and being profitable was not a target, not even a dream.
After WW2, Belgium had a major priority in restoring communications with its colonies, in addition to its desire to play a substantial role in Western Europe.
Nobody cared about load factors, except the fuel company and the catering department.
(I flew Congo-Belgium with as little as 8 pax on board...for a crew of 8)
As a state enterprise in the 50's and 60's it also became a very big employer, e.g. five persons in my family worked for SN..., and everybody was proud and happy to work in the airline industry....a nice uniform, a standing ...and have extremely well paid jobs.

The golden age did not last for ever, and economic factors started to become demanding. That's where the unions came into play.
Instead of realizing that it was counterproductive to fight against the tide, they defended everyone's job with teeth and claws, etc.....

SN did try and actually associate itself with airlines (other than Swissair) long before the last act. I remember long talks with KLM, the Air France management, and probably more.
 
bennett123
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 9:59 am

I knew that it is popular to blame SR, but surely the Directors/ Staff must of realised that the situation could not last.
 
LastBaron
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 10:02 am

AerLingus seems to be in a similar state these days - their fares are so low during what is usually "high season," it was astounding to see the ability to book BOS-DUB for $585 last week with 1 days' notice (!).

I now see why my grandfather loved SN so much, Iakobos. He must have been on one of the similar flights with 1:1 pax:crew ratio!  Smile
 
iakobos
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 10:14 am

Baron,

If I tell you some stories you might not believe it.
One that you will certainly take for granted though: when the planes crossed the Equator, a party was thrown onboard. (an old tradition involving the well know god Neptune)
Though not as wild and entertaining than the one they had onboard ships, it included enough to remember it vividly 50 years later.
(free champagne was as common as coke)
 
Blake
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 6:30 pm

SR gets blamed because they were effectively "in charge" of managing SN at the time of the demise. Not illogical huh?

Belgian directors on the board were told by the Belgian government to "look away" and not to oppose the SR decisions, after the Swissair deal was signed.

Staff indeed saw the dark cloud hanging, especially the pilots, but were unable to trigger a change...it was simply too late and the government couldn't care less...( hadn't done so for a long time ).

The strong stories from the past come from the SN business model of those days: cost plus. Any shortage on the balance sheet was compensated for by government. That's why government wanted to get rid of SN in the first place..they were tired of dumping money in SN. They wanted SN to become an independent and profit making airline. They assumed this could only be done by "selling" SN to somebody else.....but failed to choose the right partner, or could not find a suitable one (this history alone can fill a book).
There were talks with KLM, but these were blocked off for political reasons (language related). There was a period when Air France was a SN partner, but this was halted after a short period. Then came SR and the rest is history.

After the demise there were talks about a Vrigin Express merger, but these were halted because of "cultural differences" between management styles.

Weren't there rumors lately on BA taking over SNBA?

It is very unlikely that SNBA will come back to the US. Too much competition on the transat sectors. I think they have agreements with Delta for the US flights out of Brussels.
SNBA is concentrating, next to the European network, on African routes that can make a profit (so without Ecuadorial festivities I guess).

Personally, I believe SNBA should adopt the Luxair business model.

Cheers.



 
bennett123
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 6:52 pm

Blake

I think that this is too easy.

When SR took on SN it was already dead in the water, which imply in your MAIL regarding the attitude of the Belgian govenment. Whilst they were in charge when it failed, it is very convenient to ignore the preceeding decades.

Perhaps their mistake was to get involved. When SR stepped in, no one else wanted it. It might have been wiser if SR had refused to touch SN with a barge pole.

Perhaps you can remind me of the last year that SN made a profit. I am hardly a fan of FR and the MOL approach, but profits are nice once in a while.
 
iakobos
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 7:16 pm

Somewhere you are right Bennett,

SR "only" wrote the last chapter and the sad but unavoidable conclusion.
The rest belongs to history, with as many contributing writers as: the unions (several chapters), the government (idem), the French community, the Flemish community, national, regional and local narrowmindedness and at times a mistimed sense of solidarity in the public.

I suppose that most of the blame can be put on the various prime ministers of all tendencies, who would not risk their position and career and just did enough to keep it afloat and shift the problem to their successors.
 
airbear
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 7:21 pm

It is really amazing... the similarities between the closing down of both SN in Belgium, and AN in Australia. Two great airlines ... political interference ... and mismanagement by another airline that should have known better.

The only difference is that in the case of SN, "justice" was done in that SR went down, too, as a result of their actions, whereas after AN, Air New Zealand escaped without any real damage, thanks to the NZ government rescue, and now continues to fly and prosper. Good luck to it!

And please ... fans of Swissair and ANZ ... please don't savage me. SR was a great airline in its own right. I had many wonderful Y-cl. flights between Asia & Europe in the DC-10 days, as well as within Europe. They were a truly class act until the last couple of years. As for ANZ... well... I only ever flew one return trip on the SYD/LAX non-stop "Disneyland Specials", which were an ordeal for all concerned, pax (the adults, anyway...) & crew alike. So it wouldn't be fair to judge the airline on those flights alone.
 
Blake
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 7:42 pm

Hi Bennett123,

You're right, blaming SR is too easy. That's why I said: "SR get's blamed because.".....I am surely not blaming SR solely (and not targetting Swiss people because of it), public opinion in Belgium however is, because that's the impression we got from hearing and seeing the news-reports: SR came in, sucked the life out of it and dumped SN when the pool was dry...only to fail themselves shortly afterwards.

However, I disagree that SN was dead in the water before. When they had to abandon their cost-plus business model on the government's request, in my opinion they should have followed a much more modest business model like Luxair. Find a niche (but surely not LCC since not feasable on Belgian soil) and play it at your best. If Luxair can, why shouldn't SN could have. Because not sexy enough? Not prestigious enough? Because that wouldn't carry the Belgian flag across the globe? Reasons unclear until today.

SR indeed should have been wiser, not to not get involved with SN, AOM and others, but not to start an insane overambitious plan to start a global alliance "Qualiflyer" based on under-capitalized smaller airlines and head on with Skyteam, Oneworld...

Belgian government was blind for these mad plans, and only saw the promised capital injection in SN, which cut them free of doing something about the under-captilization at SN...

The first signs of SR's different plans were the ordering of many and large Airbusses for SN....Later on many of the delivered A340's and A330's flew empty, and remained even grounded for a while because this was cheaper then flying them empty!

Many other examples clearly show that the SR strategy was certainly not the only and oldest reason for SN's demise, indeed the structural problems for SN were many and profound, but it made any other realistic business model impossible at the point when it was perhaps still possible.

For the profits, I don't have the books (lot's of papers disappeared...), but from what I've read you can hardly sum up 12 months total showing profits.
They didn't have to make profits, given the cost-plus business model. When they had turned themselves around, the possible positive cash disappeared towards Airbus and SR...

It's just something we Belgians should take a good look at and not repeat ourselves in the future. I hope the Swiss and others do the same.

regards,
Blake.
 
LX23
Posts: 337
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 9:09 pm

SN showed a grand total of 1 year's worth of profits by most accounts I've heard in Belgium and Switzerland.--blaming SR is just the convenient way for those responsible from before of not taking the blame.

SR was by no means clear of any guilt, but their idea was to step in and "aid" some airlines that were seriously in trouble (TAP, Sabena, Air Lib) so as to have them as alliance partners later... the only one that did not go down the drain was TAP.

SR had it's own problems, and disappeared due to that. SN disappeared when SR stopped throwing money at it. While most people would think this was cause and effect, it can be said that they were spearate cases of gross mismanagement. Yes, SR was "managing" SN at the time, but what they were REALLY "managing" was a haemorrage of money (SN)
just my 2 cents...but I don't really think SR was the bigger part to blame
 
Bicoastal
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Mon Sep 06, 2004 10:12 pm

Has anyone seen studies/reports on how the former Sabena employees are doing? How many found jobs with other airlines? How many are still unemployed? How many have transitioned to other jobs outside of the industry?

I doubt any employer would have hired the former union activists at Sabena, but I wonder what has happened to the others? How many pilots are now flying with Ryanair, Easyjet and other new LCCs?

When Sabena folded, there was a lot of whining on this forum from and for their employees. So, I'm wondering what has happened to them.
Airliners.net has many forums. It has spell check and search functions. Use them before posting!
 
Spitfire
Posts: 697
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 12:15 am

I'm retired from January 1, 2004. Not found any correct job in a "civilized" company (or country). Now living in France....Disgusted of Belgium !!!!
Spitfire
Sabena ... Never to be forgotten (12 years already , what a shame !! )
 
LX23
Posts: 337
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 12:28 am

@Spitfire: Just out of curiosity, can you define "civilised", and what would your profession be?
 
Spitfire
Posts: 697
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 12:36 am

LX23,

...Where my wife and children could live with me, happily, peacefully and free !!! (Just have a look to some "gulf" countries ....). And for my profession, look at my profile... A340 Captain.

[Edited 2004-09-06 17:45:01]
Sabena ... Never to be forgotten (12 years already , what a shame !! )
 
Blake
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 1:10 am

With all respect, but I cannot accept the statement that SR came in to "help" some airlines "out of trouble". That makes them almost modern Robin Hoods and soon marters of the whole history.
They came in with a plan for sure, but I'm afraid it was not that noble nor innocent. They were not social workers!

Example: SR was rebooking passengers from SN flights to their own's in Johannesburg, especially business class passengers. Result: SN flight leaves almost empty and without making a profit, SR flight leaves with good load factor, plus a positive "connection" flight from Zurich to Brussels.

How's that for helping SN out of trouble?

Some studies on former SN employees have been released, and results published in newspapers. I think almost 80% has found new jobs, but of course not always in the airline business. Most pilots were forced abroad if they wanted to continue in the business, certainly those on the long range sectors. Others have found jobs in the newer airlines that were created after Sabena left, like Thomas Cook Belgium....I think "scattered" would be a right word.

Don't think any went to Ryanair....not many 737's left in the SN fleet at bankruptcy time. Updates welcome.

If I am correct, then the often interviewed pilot's union spokesman F. Van Rossem still flies A320's abroad....but on "interim" jobs?

Do not know of any website where you can read up on the figures.

This is the website of an ex-SN A320 captain now flying for Thomas Cook (I think some captions will speak for itself):

http://users.pandora.be/guy.daems/photos/photos.html

Cheers.
 
EZYcrew
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 2:18 am

SR's intention was not to "help SN". It was to take participations in European Airlines, in order to expand beyond tiny Switzerland, which is not in the EU and back then had no billateral Civil Air agreements with the European Union.

The only airlines up for sale were the failed ones, namely SN, AOM, Air Liberté, Air Littoral, TAP and LTU. It was stupid from SR's management to take such risks, and Swissair and Switzerland paid dearly for it.
 
LX23
Posts: 337
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 10:59 pm

Hence why I use the word "help"...they didnt so much care about the other airline as need it for their expansion...(that's what i tried saying in the reply above)
And yes, I know the stories about the rebookings...have heard them before...but from the other side  Big grin and i have to admit it's just one of those cases where people have completely different perspectives of what happened and why.
The same fate that fell on SN pilots has fallen on a lot of ex- SR/LX (There are even plenty of members in the forum that come to mind when making this statement) staff...it's most unfortunate, and I can only hope that as many of them will be able to go back to where they belong, the skies  Smile
Spitfire,
Ah, I see what u meant  Big grin still and all, SOME of those countries in the Meast aren't as bad as you make them out to be...but I know what you mean
 
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yyz717
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 11:02 pm

There were two organisations responsible for the demise of Sabena: the Belgian Government, which owned 51%, never took its responsibilities, and Swissair, which took away all the valuable assets of Sabena - and even that did not help them avoid their own bankruptcy.

Haha, sure blame everyone else!  Insane

The 2 groups primarily responsible for SN"s demise were its incompetent mgmt and militant unions.

The Belgian govt was correct to keep its nose out.

I dumped at the gybe mark in strong winds when I looked up at a Porter Q400 on finals. Can't stop spotting.
 
JoFMO
Posts: 1840
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Tue Sep 07, 2004 11:42 pm

@ Ezycrew:

so you could say, that the dimise of SR was indirectly caused by not being integrated in th EU, because therefore you said they were forced to invest in falling carriers from inside the EU.
 
RJ100
Posts: 3895
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 12:02 am

JoFMO, noone forced Swissair to take such a high risk. Even without being an EU member you can keep up an airline...

Regards,
RJ100
none
 
Blake
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2004 3:39 am

RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 12:10 am

As for responsibilities: the Belgian parliament started a commission that had to carry out an investigation on the responsibilities in the failure of SN.
Conclusion of this commission: nobody is to blame! NOBODY! Like it kind of just happened. Doesn't that sound like a cover-up?
I suppose they came across some facts that wouldn't look too good on the CV's of some "untouchables", and decided in the interest of their own carreers to shut up.

In a failure, management is of course always to blame....certainly if half of it was explicitly told to look the other way.

Unions tried to get the government "into motion" and stand up and try to do something about the situation. Too late, and government once more showed they were not even remotely interested. The least they could have done was try to verify if SR was still able to keep it's promise on the capital injection that was due. They weren't even interested anymore in reading the documents they signed. They wanted SN to fail, it's as simple as that. Perhaps this was indeed inevitable, but they could have been honest about it and try to get SN into "controlled" bancruptcy. Instead they kept smiling and saying that SR would pay the money.

I can say that Belgian government lost a lot of credibility since the SN failure, and they've already seen that reflected in last election's results. Since then we know that our prime minister is a fake, and his administration a joke.

The demise of SR was caused by their overambitious strategy to create a global alliance on their own. They were all probably smoking heavy stuff when they came up with that plan, and so was SN and Belgian government when they failed to check SR's papers...

SN should have gone in controlled bancruptcy years ago, and should have reinvented itself based on the Luxair model: small but of high quality and survivable amongst the bigger players.
 
donder10
Posts: 6944
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 1:05 am

Sure SR played a large role in the eventual collapse of SN,its demise had been inevitable for years.I read that Sabena had only made a profit in a single quarter of its entire existence.Relying on large ammounts of low-yield connecting traffic is very dangerous.
 
hz747300
Posts: 1906
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 2:27 am

Do Belgians miss Sabena? It is something I have wondered about since in the US we do not have a state (state not solely meaning government owned, but also one primary airline for the nation-state) Airline to tie our identity to.

I think that some of these airlines got too big for their own good. I like the Austrian model of keeping the state airline, for a small nation-state small.

The unions may kill another airline, Alitalia.
Keep on truckin'...
 
StearmanNut
Posts: 344
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 2:38 am

I have watched this documentary a few times. I can certainly sympathize with ex SN employees. It was like seeing a close-knit family ripped apart by the wiles of corporate greed mongers and a government which was certainly no watchdog. This was traumatic for all of them and it was certainly conveyed in this show.

I feel that many of the displaced workers and pilots could have found other work in the same industry. Many would have had to move from Belgium. I know RyanAir at the time of SN's closure was begging for pilots of all nationalities.

SN was 78 years old at the time of its demise. It would have been the oldest airline in existence had it survived the mismanagement.
If wishes were horses, a Tail Dragger I would fly...
 
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PA110
Posts: 1897
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RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 3:12 am

It amazes me how many Belgians are still in utter denial about SN's situation, and the role of the government. As a former SN employee, who left the carrier before bankruptcy, I can assure you that the airline was simply not worth saving.

Before you start flaming me, consider the following:

1. Belgium was one of the strongest proponents for EU integration.
2. That same integrated EU ruled carriers could no longer receive government subsidies.
3. Unions who were accustomed to the national carrier being the rough equivalent of working for the civil service simply could not or did not want to comprehend the significance of the EU rules against goverment subsidies.
3. The failure of Sabena was due to an intransigent Union and an unmotivated and bloated workforce, and market saturation.
4. SR kept throwing money at SN, but the bloated and inefficient workforce keep gobbling that money up as fast as it arrived.
5. SR stopped propping up an already failing airline when it was clear that it had its own serious financial troubles.
6. The government was forbidden to step in due to EU rules on subsidies.

One thing is certain: Folks at Alitalia really better start waking up and taking notice, because it will be a very similar scenario when the end comes at AZ.

[Edited 2004-09-07 20:28:31]
It's been swell, but the swelling has gone down.
 
Blake
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Sep 02, 2004 3:39 am

RE: Sabena's Demise

Wed Sep 08, 2004 4:53 am

As a native Belgian: no I do not personally miss Sabena.

I just think that what happened to SN is a textbook example of how not to turn over an airline from a state owned cost-plus company to a privately owned profit-making company.

And it is not fair that those responsible (and there are many indeed) got away with it.....In a way, it's kind of our Belgian Enron story (probably not 100% safe comparison but I hope you get my drift).

I do know a lot of people who used to work for Sabena, and the least I can say is that they do miss Sabena. They all seem to have really liked the atmosphere and were very proud to be able to say they worked for Sabena. It gave them an exotic "air" and something I would describe as comparable to the feeling that you're part of something "special". Sabena pilots certainly had a high status in Belgium. Not surprisingly because you had to be amongst the best of the best to be able to make it through selection criteria....(I admit, I failed on the medical for eye-sight).

I realize this is somewhat in contradiction to what PA110 wrote, who seems not so proud of his time at SN. So perhaps SN people just kept up a happy appearance? Anyway, all the interviews and reports I've read, talk and write about a "very motivated workforce" the last few years before bancruptcy. I think morale really picked up when SR "came in", SN people really wanted to believe the odds were turning and they would make it at least for another 70 years under SR wings....

I can understand their frustration and anger when they realized it was just a dream....they felt betrayed by SR and the Belgian government.

As for unions: if unions could really bring down an airline, then why is Air France still flying, and doing very well??

As for Alitalia: wanna bet that when it goes down the unions will get blamed?

Cheers.

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