• Kyodo

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All Nippon Airways Co. said Tuesday it will suspend services on 16 international flight routes from late March due to falling travel demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The services to be halted as part of a new schedule between March 28 and Oct. 30 include those between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Moscow, and Narita Airport and New York and San Francisco, while reducing the number of flights between Haneda and Bangkok and on two other routes.

The scale of operations is likely to be half of last year's initial plan for the period. ANA, which has now cut about 80% of its international flights from its initial plan, said it will maintain a flexible approach to its operations while keeping close tabs on demand trends and the state of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the major airline will introduce in April sabbatical leave for up to two years that will allow its employees to pursue personal interests such as studying, company officials said Tuesday.

The airline's move, unprecedented in Japan in terms of length of the leave, comes as ANA tries to curb labor costs, having furloughed many cabin crew members due to the spread of the virus.

Around 15,000 ANA pilots and cabin and ground staff will be eligible for the new sabbatical system to pursue goals that necessitate long-term planning such as studying abroad, obtaining qualifications and working temporarily at other companies, they said.

While the leave will be unpaid, the company will provide ¥200,000 ($1,930) for those who within fiscal 2021 start their sabbatical of more than one year.

The airline will cover employees' social security contributions during their absence, which needs to last at least one month. Those taking the sabbatical can choose from several options of length — up to five months, one year, 18 months and two years.

ANA already has leave systems for employees engaged in nursing care and fertility treatment, as well as study abroad or advanced education programs provided that further study will enhance their contribution to the company.

The existing leave systems will be integrated into the new sabbatical scheme, in which employees can leave the workplace without citing specific reasons, the officials said.

The company also said it will reduce costs by using smaller aircraft and promote the early retirement of its Boeing 777s, replacing them with more fuel-efficient Boeing 787s, in line with its plan announced in October.

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