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Airline asks workers to take a holiday

JAPAN Airlines Co, Asia's biggest carrier by sales, is asking workers in its international arm to take unpaid leave for the first time in four years amid slumping demand for air travel.

Japan Airlines International Co, with about 16,200 employees, offered cabin attendants, cockpit crew and ground staff in Japan to apply for one or two months of unpaid leave, starting next month, spokesman Stephen Pearlman said yesterday. He declined to say how many employees areexpected to take the leave.

The move comes after the airline flew 17.6 percent fewer international passengers in November, the biggest tumble since outbreaks of SARS and bird flu in 2003. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, offered its cabin staff unpaid leave last year.

"The key reason is a drop in demand," Pearlman said. "There will be a decline in travel during February and March."

President Haruka Nishimatsu wants to cut the unit's staff by 13 percent to 14,100 by the end of March and retire less fuel-efficient planes after losing money in two of the past three years.

The airline slashed its operating income forecast in November by 44 percent to 28 billion yen (US$315 million) for the year ending March 31. The airline will announce earnings for last quarter on February 6.

Last month, Barclays Capital predicted that Japan's economy probably shrank at an annual 12.1 percent last quarter, the sharpest drop since 1974.

All Nippon Airways Co, Japan's second-largest carrier, has not asked its staff to take unpaid voluntary leave, spokesman Rob Hendersonsaid yesterday.

Japan Airlines plans to slash labor costs by 10 billion yen this fiscal year after shedding 52 billion yen last year through work force reductions and by lowering bonus payments and retirement benefits.

It had a total work force of 48,800 people at the end of March after axing 2,297 jobs last fiscal year.


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