PAST: The progress came from the sky

Fri 30-09-2011 - Sun 26-02-2012

The airline Sabena came into being in 1923. It aimed to be among Europe’s best and looked continually to set its standards higher.

Flying: a risky adventure

Before the introduction of air traffic, people took trains or boats. Setting up against the popular modes of transport was no easy matter – certainly not in the early years, when flying was still a risky adventure. There was little comfort and accidents were numerous, but these were not reasons for giving up. Daring initiatives were launched, one of which resulted in the Congo already having a network of domestic flights in 1921-1922 – a world first!

Technical progress

There was no stopping technical progress. The propeller was followed by the jet and later came the Concorde. Sabena, too, planned to buy this aircraft, but ultimately changed its mind.
The exhibition indeed reveals a history of spectacular developments, using engine cross-sections, scale models and films for the purpose. And did you know that the first aeroplane seats were cane garden chairs? They were rapidly replaced by safer and more comfortable seats, which, until 1970, were manufactured by Sabena in its own workshops.

From stewardess to maintenance technician

Generations of young women have dreamed of a job as stewardess, but the uniforms on display here also tell a story of women going out to work and their struggle against inequality.
In aviation, it is the crew that is the most visible element of the staff. But there are also many others working behind the scenes. Without specialized maintenance staff, for example, everything would grind to a halt. Did you know, too, that airlines from all around the world had recourse to Sabena for the maintenance of their aircraft? Sabena staff indeed were employed in a very wide range of jobs and their workwear was constantly adapted to protect them against the hazards of the workfloor.


As a commercial company, Sabena also conducted numerous publicity campaigns. Some of the campaign posters on display here have never before been exhibited. Take a good look at the slogans – they provide a very good reflection of how the spirit of the times has changed!

Aviation then, now and in the future

Sabena shared Belgian airspace with other airlines, both subsidiaries and competitors. Air-traffic deregulation and the appearance of low-cost airlines have now brought about a radical change in travel behaviour. And how will we be travelling in the post-oil era?

Young passengers

The exhibition also demonstrates how Sabena catered for young passengers and treated them as valued customers deserving of every attention.

In co-operation with the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History