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Air carriers extend unpaid leave for foreign pilots


South Korean air carriers including Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have extended unpaid leave for foreign pilots amid slowing recovery of the aviation industry after COVID-19, companies said Thursday. 

Korean Air said it had extended the unpaid leave period for all 376 of its foreign pilots to the end of July, a month longer than previously planned. They have been away from work since April. 

“As the situation shows no sign of abating, we had to extend the unpaid leave period. If the flight operations do not get back to normal, we may extend (the period) even longer,” a Korean Air official told The Korea Herald, adding that further discussions will take place by closely looking at the situation. 

Although the company has resumed operation of part of US and Canada routes using smaller, mid-sized planes, the reservation rate for international flights in June has hovered around 32 percent.

The flight operation rate of international routes is currently only at 22 percent, according to Korean Air.

Korean Air said a total of 11 foreign pilots have left the company since April, when they began unpaid leave. 

Asiana Airlines said it has also indefinitely extended the unpaid leave for foreign pilots -- except for a number of B747 cargo pilots -- considering the status of recovery in the aviation industry. Some 120 foreign pilots at Asiana Airlines have been away since March.

“It is unavoidable to conduct unpaid leave until the situation gets better, while an average of eight flights take off for international routes on daily basis,” said an Asiana Airlines official. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Asiana Airlines has suspended operation of 57 out of 72 international routes over reduced passenger numbers and overseas entry bans of travelers from other countries. 

By Kim Da-sol (
Korea Herald Youtube