On September 11 in 1946, a small group of Sabena staff members established a general aviation section named SSTA, or "Section Sportive et de Tourisme Aérien". The objective of the new association was to promote 'the Art of Piloting and Navigating', as was announced by an early leaflet. The newly formed club was open to employees of Sabena and its branch offices.
The first aircraft provided for members of the club was an Auster J1 Autocrat (OO-ABN) and was soon followed by two Piper Cubs (OO-EAB and OO-EAE). Also at that time they flew out of the airfield of Grimbergen, previously a military spare airport which existed since 1939.
A few years later, in 1954, the association became a non-profit organisation.
From 1965 onwards, more modern aircraft were added to the fleet, like a Cessna 150 (OO-SEZ). In 1966 the club bought its first four-seater, a Cessna 172 (OO-SEY). In 1974 an extra Cessna 150 (OO-SEW) was acquired due to the large number of members (120).
In 1985, under Sabena CEO Carlos van Raefelghem, the SSTA was transformed into the Sabena Aeroclub, the flying club of the Sabena Airline. Due to this change, the airplanes also received a new look: they were painted blue and white (the official Sabena colours) besides the classic S-tail (the Sabena logo) on the airplane’s tails. Soon the association would reach its record number of 280 members.
When the club would celebrate it’s 40th birthday in 1994, the Grimbergen airfield was closed. Local pressure groups - complaining about sound pollution in their self-picked living area - forced contemporary politicians into it. But the club got an exception from the government to land at the airfield. Sabena CEO Pierre Godfroid and representative of the Parliament and chairman of the Flemish Aerospace Group (FLAG) Herman Candries were present at the celebration. Eight years after closure of the airfield it re-opened and the club settled back in Grimbergen in 1997.
In October 2001, mother company Sabena was suddenly declared bankrupt and so the club abruptly lost its main and only fundings. But it well and sound managed to survive on its own. After the breaking news the club negotiated with the Sabena curators about the release of ownership of some of the aircraft of the Aeroclub fleet, which were still Sabena property. The transaction was successful (the club paid the current value) and from that point on the Sabena Aeroclub legally owned all of its aircrafts.
On the 26th of June 2002 new rules were voted in the general assembly under which the Aeroclub activities continued. According to the new statutes, anyone with a healthy interest in aeronautics can become a member.
In 2004 the club celebrated its 50th birthday which was extensively celebrated. One year later the club received the title 'Royal' by his royal and Belgian Majesty King Albert II. Since then the club may be officially called "Royal Sabena Aeroclub".
Today we are a proud, independent and self-sufficient aeroclub. We have about a hundred members flying our four modern well maintained aircraft. We do our utmost to fly as environment friendly as possible with highest regards to safety. Therefore where possible, we reduce noise pollution, avoid residential areas, reduce fuel consumption, etc.
We are the only registered training facility in Belgium, providing modern ground and flight instruction in Dutch, English and French.
Challenges for the future
The present world of aviation is developing more rapidly than ever. One of our challenges for the future is to stay up to date with these changes.
- Safety is the first and ever present topic in all our activities.
- We continuously strive to improve our way of teaching the art of flying.
- Continue to attract interested youth and to help them with their first steps towards becoming a professional pilot.
- Guiding passionate people into their aviation hobby.
- Keeping our fleet up to date with the latest technologies.
- Like in the good old days of Sabena we want to stimulate the pleasant atmosphere among club members, colleagues and aviation enthusiasts.
Sir Thomas More, 1478 - 1535