Herman De Wulf/BRUSSELS

The former chief executive, members of the management and pilots of Sabena's charter airline Sobelair face charges of forgery and fraud following a five-year investigation by the country's authorities.

Retired former chief executive Pierre Jonnart, 27 Sobelair captains and management members face charges of falsifying flight documents to show aircraft were used less than they actually were, to stretch times between maintenance and to cut servicing costs.

Pilots were also encouraged to fly faster, to reduce flying time, and received extra pay for arriving ahead of schedule, the Belgian investigation reveals.

The alleged fraud was made public in 1994 when Sobelair pilot Pierre Ghosez filed an official complaint after being fired when he refused to forge documents. The Belgian authorities have been investigating the matter since then and now have a case to bring to court. A date for the hearing has yet to be determined.

Last year, the Belgian authorities threatened to remove Sobelair's air operator's certificate when its investigations revealed that the airline was not meeting maintenance requirements.

Sobelair's parent, Sabena, has also been a victim of the fraud. Sabena charged Sobelair by the hour for aircraft dry-leased by the charter division during the holiday season. The falsification of aircraft use meant that Sabena was paid considerably less for the use of its aircraft. Sabena declines to comment on the case.

Source: Flight International