All Nippon Airways Co. will introduce in April a sabbatical leave that will allow its employees to pursue personal interests such as studying for up to two years, company officials said Tuesday, as travel demand plunges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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 virus spread.

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 yen ($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 that can 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 contributions 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.

Meanwhile, the major Japanese airline said Tuesday it will suspend services on 16 international flight routes from late March due to falling travel demand amid the pandemic.

The services to be halted in the new schedule between March 28 and Oct. 30 include those between Tokyo's Haneda airport and Moscow, and Narita airport east of the Japanese capital and New York, as well as 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 percent 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 situation of the pandemic.

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.