Sabena stood for Societe Autonyme Belge d'Exploitation de la Navigation Aerienne. It was created May 23, 1923, taking over from Belgium's previous airline, SNETA (Syndicat Aeriens pour l'Etude des Transports Aeriens), which had been formed in 1919.
Sabena was partly funded by Belgians in the then-colony of Congo who had recently lost their only air service. It was one of the early pioneers of air travel in Africa, beginning routes there in 1925, including flights along the Congo River using a flying boat.
After World War II, Sabena expanded into helicopter flights, and for a time had the world's largest scheduled network of helicopter routes.
Like many national airlines of small countries, Sabena lost money in most years and faced severe financial problem when deregulation hit the airline industry beginning in the 1980s. In May 1995, 49.5 percent of it was sold to Swissair, the national airline of Switzerland, but this didn't prove to be enough help.
The final blow came with the September 11 Attacks, which battered the international aviation and travel industries and led to massive financial losses in many international airlines, including Sabena. On November 7, 2001, it went bankrupt and ceased operations- the largest commercial bankruptcy in Belgium's history.