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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 09:55 GMT
Belgian national airline goes bust
Flight attendants hear news of the bankruptcy
Flight attendants hear news of the bankruptcy
Belgium's debt-laden national airline has formally filed for bankruptcy at a court in Brussels.

Sabena is the first European national airline to go bust in what employment minister Laurette Onkelinx has called "an economic and social disaster for Belgium".

The airline's board was finally forced to accept that its desperate search for fresh investment of 372m euros had failed on Tuesday, according to chairman Fred Chaffart.

The airline's problems started after its part-owner Swissair, which has also collapsed, reneged on a promised 136m-euro injection into the Belgian airline.

Grounded

Sabena cancelled most of its flights on Tuesday after ground staff in Brussels staged a walk-out in protest over rumours of the bankruptcy decision.

Airline staff at head-office received an e-mail telling them to collect their belongings and go home.

But the search for a rescue plan had continued until the last minute.

The Belgian government is Sabena's majority shareholder, holding a 50.5% stake.

Sabena's debts total about 2bn euros (1.2bn; $1.8bn).

Virgin hope falls through

Earlier on Tuesday, Virgin Express, the budget airline part-owned by the British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, said it had failed to cut a deal to buy parts of Sabena's operations.

Virgin Express had hoped intensive last-ditch talks on Tuesday would bring an agreement but eventually dismissed the proposals on the table as "inoperable".

But by late-morning it said it now believes "it will be in the best interests of Virgin Express to pursue (an) independent plan".

It intends to increase its own flights from Brussels.

Any bailout for Sabena has focused on restructuring the airline around its Delta Air Transport (DAT) subsidiary which flies 100-seater jets to European destinations.

Brussels airport chaos

There were chaotic scenes in Brussels' Zaventem airport as flight authority officials warned travellers holding Sabena tickets to stay away.

"No one knows what's going on," said check-in counter worker Trudi Weerts, who described the confusion as "scandalous".

Nevertheless, the government is thought to have drafted extra police at Zaventem airport to deal with possible disturbances.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
"Sabena was founded in 1923, but has hardly ever made a profit"
The BBC's Rosie Hayes
"At Brussels airport Sabena workers were angry"
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Altantic Airways
"No airline that crosses the Atlantic is doing well at the moment"
See also:

06 Nov 01 | Business
BA plays consolidation game
06 Nov 01 | Business
Sabena cancels flights
01 Nov 01 | Business
Swissair rescue hopes brighten
17 Oct 01 | Business
Sabena rescue gets EU blessing
17 Oct 01 | Business
Europe says no to airline aid
12 Oct 01 | Business
Round-up: Aviation in crisis
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