Sky High

Fact: Belgians have a long and impressive aviation history. So the I Love Belgium team decided to share this with you! Where does the story start? In 1908, when the Belgian Aeroclub (then all about air balloons) invited Frenchmen Henri Farman for a demonstration flight.  We were the third nation, after the US and France, where a plane went up in the sky, but the first country where a lady dared to take a seat!

After the Ghent airshow the public wanted to see and be able to worship the "air aces". Only two years later Antwerp-native Jan Olieslagers established a new world record flying at a height of 1,524 metres. On the governmental side, a military air branch was created in that same year. King Albert I, fond of new techniques, supported initiatives helping the development of the aviation. The fast and surprising progresses of the aerial weapons in WW I pushed some pioneers to launch our first national air company.

One year after the end of the war, the SNETA (Société Nationale pour l'Etude des Transports Aériens) came to life. The first aircrafts, mainly converted war-machines, served on the London, Amsterdam or Paris routes. A time where a handful of passengers had a coffee with the pilot before starting their adventure!

But Belgian territory was not limited to Europe... The plane was, without any doubt, the fastest way to reach our colony on African soil: Belgian Congo. In 1920 the LARA (Ligne Aérienne du Roi Albert) could assure internal liaisons in the colony.

Corporation for Air Navigation Services, better known internationally by the acronym Sabena, followed after SNETA ceased operations. The first commercial flight of Sabena was operated between Brussels and London on 1 July 1923 via Ostend.  Throughout their 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.

With the coming of the Brussels World Exposition of 1958, Sabena decided to open up the first Heliport in the world. Located in the city centre of Brussels, this small strip opened on the first of August 1953. This heliport offered helicopter connections between European cities and a mind-blowing air-experience for the wealthy world exposition visitor. The heliport closed down on the first of June 1965 due to the loss of interest in helicopter travel.

In the 60s and 70s, choices had to be made and some mistakes were made. Sabena lost money and had to find new ways to finance its operations amidst a general economical crisis. A link with Swissair was one of the possible solutions to take on the new millennium, but unfortunately Sabena could not avoid bankruptcy and this also meant that one of the oldest airline companies in the world disappeared.

After the end of Sabena in 2001, the newly formed SN Brussels Airlines took over part of Sabena's assets, which became Brussels Airlines after a merger with Virgin Express in March 2007. Today Brussels Airlines continues our great aviation history as they operate to over 65 destinations in 20 European countries as well as long-haul flights to North America and East, Central, and West Africa. Lately Brussels Airlines added New York to their list. The I Love Belgium team had the pleasure to experience the Brussels Airlines Business way of traveling. To be followed …

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