Christian Vanbuggenhout: “Sabena could have been saved”

© Paul Jongeneelen

Christian Vanbuggenhout, who is still managing the curatorship of Sabena, strongly believes that with extra money, a good restructuring and lower wages, the airline would have been saved from bankruptcy.

Vanbuggenhout has been dealing with the bankruptcy of Sabena for the past 17 years. In a hangar at Brussels Airport, all Sabena files are still being stored. Yet even today the bankrupt airline is selling items, earning millions of Euros.

Basically, Sabena should never go bankrupt as the airline could have been saved,” says Vanbuggenhout to Belgian Radio 2. “If you see what we have been able to realise and deliver in the years after the bankruptcy, I still regret that they forced the airline into bankruptcy. In my opinion, a good restructuring was the best solution, as other airlines have done.

By the way,” Vanbuggenhout added, “after the Sabena bankruptcy, not one single national airline throughout Europe has been declared bankrupt (Editor’s note: small correction: Malév, the Hungarian national airline went bankrupt in 2012). If we had refinanced the airline with the approval of the European Union and if we reduced the wages, certainly the ones of the pilots, Sabena could have been saved.

© Ivan Coninx

Sabena (Société Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne) was a venerable 78-year-old lady. An internationally renowned company, the largest employer in Belgium with 10,000 workers, 11 million passengers in 2000, 107 destinations in 48 countries. That’s the positive business card.

But Sabena was also known for its recurring losses almost every year. The lack of vision of the State, which regained control before the evil marriage with Swissair in 1995. A lack of capital, a hectic social life, a growing debt of two billion euros at the end. Especially after Swissair has undertaken to take the best parts, pumping subsidiaries and passengers, with a certain folly sometimes, as with the massive purchase of 34 Airbus aircraft, which put the balance sheet definitively in the red.

The restructuring plans did not change anything. The highly indebted Swiss shareholders were the first to plunge.

Bloodless, abandoned by the Belgian State which was tired to invest at loss, Sabena filed for bankruptcy on November 7, 2001.


  1. Sabena, Iberia, Alitalia and Olympic were the ever money losing carriers in Europe. State owned, with high wages, strong unions, outdated mentality and lack of service.
    The takeover by Swissair was the last drop. The swiss carrier was on a crazy hunt for shares in airlines, making one bad decision after the other ( unlike the Swissair from the 60’s,70’s and 80’s).
    It’s a shame, besides the bad reputation of the airline, Sabena deserved to survive.


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