19th January 2004 – A black day in Belgian Aviation History
Société Belge des Transports par Air SA, known by its short form Sobelair, was a Belgian airline from that operated from 1946 to 2004. It was headquartered in Brussels (later in Zaventem) and operated mostly non-scheduled passenger and cargo flights out of Brussels Airport.[
Sobelair was founded as a charter airline on 30 July 1946, originally (only during the initial months) known as Société d'Etude et de Transports Aériens, abbreviated SETA. The first revenue flight using a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, which took place on 15 October of that year, was a flowers transport to Nice via Paris. In 1947, scheduled flights from Brussels to Elisabethville in Belgian Congo were launched on behalf of several companies in the Belgian colony, which held the majority of the stakes in the company. In 1949, these shares were acquired by Belgian flag carrier Sabena, which thus owned 72.29 percent in Sobelair.
When Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville) was founded as an independent state in the former Belgian Congo, Sobelair ceased its African service, and concentrated on offering chartered holiday flights to the Mediterranean instead, as well as (between 1957 and 1962) domestic routes using small Cessna 310 airplanes.
Sobelair joined the jet age in 1971, when the first Caravelle was acquired second-hand from Sabena. Over the following years, the fleet was further modernized with Boeing 707 aircraft, which stayed until 1981. By then, Sobelair operated a fleet composed exclusively of smaller Boeing 737 airliners. Long haul flights were relaunched only in 1994, using a newly bought Boeing 767-300.[
When Swissair started an alliance with Sabena in 1995, plans were made for a co-operation of the respective charter subsidiaries. Thus, Sobelair went into negotiation with the Swiss subsidiary of Trans European Airways in 1996, which turned out to be fruitless. Instead, an agreement was signed with Crossair. In 1997, Sobelair operated chartered passenger flights from Zuric to San Francisco and Las Vegas on behalf of Swissair. In the late 1990s, a charter contract with tour operator Jetair was signed. In 2001, further agreements with ALM Antillean Airlines and Balair were secured.
In October 2001, Swissair went bankrupt, which was followed by the demise of partner Sabena in November of the same year, which led to the future of Sobelair becoming uncertain, too. Delta Air Transport, which the Sabena slots had been transferred to, briefly considered taking over Sobelair's 767s for the re-launch of scheduled passenger flights to Africa (instead, Birdy Airlines was founded for that purpose), and German tour operator Preussag went into negotiations concerning a taking-over of the airline, which were dropped again in February 2002.
After having been acquired by a group of investors in June 2002, which led to the launch of scheduled flights on the Brussels-Johannesburg route, Sobelair was passed on to SN Brussels Airlines in early 2003, for which it operated charter flights henceforth. This did not lead to an improvement of the financial situation, so that Sobelair had to declare bankruptcy in early January 2004. TUI Travel placed an offer for taking over Sobelair's aircraft in order to create a Belgian airline subsidiary, provided that creditor protection would be granted. On 19 January, this measure was rejected, so that Sobelair went out of business and its then approximately 450 employees lost their jobs.
A few months later it was so sad to see their Boeing's 767 OO-SLR and OO-SLS partly scripts, without the SOBELAIR markings,
and without engines ready for further dismantling.
For millions of passengers on the way to their vacation, they always will remember their flights on board of those marvelous white n and blue SOBELAIR planes.