Delta Air Lines Inc. is resuming on Saturday, March 25, its Atlanta–Brussels flights, an announcement which drew a hardy round of applause from the dozens of attendees at a Belgium National Day celebration held in Midtown the evening of Jan. 13.
Anton Mertens, president of the Belgian-American Chamber of the South which hosted the celebration at the Lawyers Club in the 1230 Peachtree Street office building, made the long-awaited announcement. The Atlanta-Brussels flights were suspended following the March terrorist attacks in Belgium last year.
Mr. Mertens told Global Atlanta that a festive send-off would be held at the departure gate prior to the flight’s departure with Pieter De Crem, Belgium’s secretary of state for foreign trade, attending.
Mr. De Crem, who previously has served as Belgium’s minister of defense, is to arrive in Atlanta on March 22 to reinforce Georgia’s trade relations with Belgium and to meet with local officials including Mayor Kasim Reed and Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
As minister of defense, Mr. De Crem increased the participation of the Belgian armed forces in international operations sending Belgian troops in peace support missions around the world. He also sought to realize more cooperation in the field of a common European Defense, taking advantage of Belgium’s influence when it took over the EU-Presidency in the second half of 2010.
Although the celebration prior to the flight’s departure will not involve a ribbon cutting because it is not a new launch, Mr. Mertens said the chamber is expecting enthusiastic support for the flights because of the inconveniences experienced while flying from New York or Washington and through Amsterdam or Paris.
The upbeat emotion surrounding the resumed flight will be underscored by the presence of a Smurf that Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. plans to bring to promote a new Smurf film.
Known as Les Schtroumpfs in French, or De Smurfit in Dutch, the Smurfs are small blue humanoids who live in mushroom-shaped house in the forest depicted in a Belgian comic book series created by the Belgian comics artist Peyo.
Mr. Mertens reminded the attendees that the Belgian airline Sabena Belgian World Airlines was the first foreign flag carrier to Atlanta arriving in June 1778.
The flight was credited with attracting many Belgian companies to Georgia, a tenet of economic development that commerce and investment often follow the establishment of airline routes.
During the build up to the 1996 Summer Olympics, delegations from Belgian often referred to Georgia as its 11th province because so many Belgian companies had invested in the state.
At least 30 Georgia companies, including United Parcel Service Inc. have operations in Belgium and more than four dozen Belgian-owned companies – from brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Inc. to the Solvay Group, which has its North American headquarters for Solvay Specialty polymers in Alpharetta.
Sabena officials attending the 20th anniversary of the Sabena Atlanta-Brussels flight in 1998 said that President Jimmy Carter facilitated the inaugural flight, which drew Robert Shaw, the former conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and the esteemed founder of the Robert Shaw Chorale.
Others on the flight included Mary Beth Busbee, wife of then-Gov. George Busbee, then-Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Peter White, president of the Southern Center for International Studies, Milton Ford, the former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism and Louise Suggs, an international consultant with the GDITT and an honorary member of the Consular Corps.
Anne Cox Chambers, an inheritor of the Cox Enterprises media empire, served as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium from 1977-81 during the Carter presidency and helped formalize the ties with Georgia.
In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, she said that she “never got over the thrill” of her role as ambassador. “If I’d go to a reception, the formality, they’d say, ‘The ambassador of the United States of America. And I’d look around and say, That’s me!’ It was such a source of pride.”
According to the officials at that time, the airline’s office in Atlanta had been profitable in part because it booked many passengers through Brussels to the Holy Land. But Sabena discontinued its flights due to financial difficulties in 1991, later joining with Delta in code-sharing between the U.S. and Brussels in June 1993.
Sabena remained the national airline of Belgium until 2001, but suffered mightily from a number of factors including liberalization of the airline industry throughout Europe, the Gulf War which caused fuel prices to rise, and the effects of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, the year when it declared bankruptcy on Nov. 7.
Atlanta is home to the Belgian Consulate General, and the office of the Flanders Investment and Trade office.
William De Baets, the Belgian consul general, is to participate in a “Consular Conversation” with the Global Atlanta’s Phil Bolton and Trevor Williams on this coming Friday, Jan. 20, at noon at the law offices of Miller & Martin PLLC. Also attending will be Wim Van Cauteren, who serves a Investment and Trade Commissioner in the Flanders office.
Click here to register to join the event featuring Mr. De Baets.