Sabena is set to be declared bankrupt

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The Independent Online

The ailing Belgian flag-carrier Sabena is set to be declared bankrupt after failing to secure rescue financing, airline unions were told yesterday.

Sabena's chief executive, Christoph Müller, is understood to have warned unions there is a "big chance" that the state-owned airline would be put into liquidation because no new investors had been found.

This would make Sabena the second major airline to succumb to the downturn in the airline market following 11 September. Last month Swissair which owns a large stake in Sabena, was placed in administration, precipitating the crisis at the Belgian airline.

After meeting the Sabena management yesterday morning, a union spokeswoman, Inge Vervotte, said: "It was made very clear to us that there is almost no other alternative but for Sabena to file for bankruptcy."

The bankruptcy will apply to the holding company but not its subsidiary DAT, which operates regional short haul services. The hope is that DAT will form the nucleus of a successor airline to Sabena. Last Monday Sir Richard Branson met Belgian ministers to discuss a merger of DAT and his low-cost Brussels-based airline Virgin Express.

Sabena has debts of 2.2bn euros (£1.4bn) and has only been kept in the air for the last month through a 125m euros loan from the Belgian government. It was granted protection from its creditors early last month after Swissair failed to provide a promised injection of capital. Sabena was already facing the loss of half its 6,000 staff.