One of Asia's biggest airlines says it will reduce international flights and ask staff to take unpaid leave. 

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways will cut capacity, delay plane deliveries and ask staff to go up to four weeks without pay this year.

It is the latest casualty, as world airlines are set to lose billions of dollars in 2009.

Cathay Pacific chief executive Tony Tyler says the current crisis is worse than the SARS pandemic of 2003, which also crippled air travel in Asia.

"SARS, we knew it wasn't going to last forever," Tyler said.  "It was more drastic while it was on. But we knew it wouldn't last forever . It was it was a health scare.  And, once the health scare went away, the strength in the underlying economy saw traffic recover."

Tyler told reporters "visibility is poor" during the current crisis and the company is uncertain when it will recover.

Cathay Pacific lost more than eight-point-six-million dollars in 2008 - a record annual loss for the airline. This year, first-quarter earnings were down more than 22 percent, compared to last year.

The company blames the losses on high fuel prices in the first half of the year and a plunge in both passenger and cargo demand in the second half.

Cathay Pacific plans to cut back on seat availability or flights to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Sydney, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, Mumbai and Dubai.   Its sister airline, Dragonair, will reduce services to Shanghai, Bengaluru in India and Busan in South Korea and suspend flights to some Chinese cities.

Tyler says both the pilots association and local staff union have agreed to the proposed non-paid leave plan.

"They understand the problem," Tyler said.  "They do understand the situation the company is facing and they want to help."

The International Air Transport Association says the airline industry is facing one of its toughest years ever and that Asia-Pacific carriers may be hardest hit.

Last week, flag carrier Air China reported a loss of one-point-four-billion dollars in 2008.  China Eastern, the third-biggest airline in China, says it lost $2.2 billion, last year.  Australia's Qantas plans to cut an additional 1,750 jobs, after eliminating 1,500 last July.