The new wings of Belgium - Part I

It was in November 2006, five years after the demise of Belgium's major flag carrier Sabena, that Brussels Airlines was officially founded. It was founded following the merger of SN Brussels Airlines and Virgin Express, both based in Brussels. I am now going to tell their stories separately.

SN Brussels Airlines was founded with the remaining assets of Sabena early in 2002, a few months after the bankruptcy where over ten thousand Brussels based employees lost their jobs. The remaining assets of Sabena were DAT (Delta Air Transport), a Belgian subsidiary regional airline. DAT used to fly to several destinations in Europe situated not too far from Belgium, flights were operated mostly out of Brussels but a few short haul flights were operated out of Antwerp as well, the fleet consisted of mostly Avro regional jets with a few Embraer Brasilia's and Fokker 28's, flown mostly on short flights within Europe. The Avro (it's a small one hundred-seat airliner made for short flights) fleet was inherited.
The new company, founded with several private investors whose names included Davignon and Lippens, was initially called DAT "New Version". Out of the some twelve thousand employees that found themselves unemployed, about three thousand were rehired by the new DAT. It was in the Spring of 2002 that the new DAT had a new name: SN Brussels Airlines. The name Brussels was chosen probably for marketing reasons, because Brussels is the capital of Europe. The IATA code SN as well as the S logo were kept.
A fleet of three Airbus A319's coming from defunct Sabena was added for longer flights within Europe. The destinations flown with the A319 aircraft included Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Moscow Domodedovo (SN doesn't fly to Sheremetyevo unlike most other European airlines, I believe Sabena used to fly to Sheremetyevo) as far as I know. A fleet of three A330's was also added for the long haul flights to Africa. Flights to America and Asia were totally eliminated but the former network of Africa was kept. However SN codeshares with American Airlines on flights to New York JFK and Chicago O'Hare.
I took a couple of trips with SN in 2006, one to Istanbul and the other one to Tel Aviv, both with the A319 aircraft. I had a decent in flight service and I found the A319 to be in very good condition, as if it were all new. It's a very nice aircraft! On the way back from Istanbul, I was invited by the captain to visit the cockpit at the gate before departure back to Brussels. He showed me all the instruments on the A319. He told me that he has flown the Fokker 28, it must be that he flew previously for DAT before being rehired by SN. A few months after, SN stopped flying to Istanbul (IST), leaving then Moscow (DME, SN doesn't fly to SVO) and Tel Aviv (TLV) as the only destinations where the three A319's would fly, this was early in 2007 just after the merger with Virgin Express. Since then, SN has phased in additional A319s for its European destinations, several more routes out of BRU to destinations including Nice (NCE) and Lisbon (LIS) are now also flown with Airbus A319 equipment. The A319 is becoming in the early 2010s the backbone of SN's medium haul fleet. SN has plans to phase out the Boeing 737s and Avros in the long run.

OO-SSG was one of the first three A319's in service with SN. I flew on that particular aircraft when I went to Istanbul and then when I went to Tel Aviv. This was in the middle of 2006.
Virgin Express was founded in 1996. Virgin CEO Richard Brandson approached Victor Hasson, the then CEO of EBA (Euro Belgian Airlines) flying Boeing 737's to holiday destinations in Europe, to eventually take over the assets. Victor Hasson, who had just sold his company to Virgin, started on his own a new low cost Belgian airline, CityBird.
Virgin Express flew to several destinations in Europe including London Heathrow, Barcelona, Nice, Malaga, Geneva, Milan and Rome, as well as others but the ones I mention are the ones I remember very well. It used to be a low cost airline like Southwest in the United States (but of course much smaller), you could fly with them cheap but you had to pay for your drink in flight. I took a few trips with them, mostly to Nice where I used to take short summer holidays down in the French Riviera. I flew to Barcelona with them as well. London Heathrow was dropped probably because of time slot restrictions, leaving SN, BA and BMI to have those time slots.
A fleet of Boeing 737-300's and 400's was inherited from EBA. I initially didn't like the idea that the aircraft would be painted in red but after looking at the color scheme more closely I found it original. It was a nice idea to paint the tail and engine nacelles in white, making it an unusual view compared to white fuselages and colored tails seen everywhere! Those airplanes used to be called the little red balls, because they could be easily spotted right away. Even a non aviation enthusiast could spot them because red balls were seen at first glance in the blue sky.
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