British Airways pilots will be required to take two weeks’ unpaid leave in both April and May while rival easyJet is reported to have asked staff to take three months’ unpaid leave as the battered aviation sector frantically seeks to cut costs.

The unpaid leave at BA would be implemented through deductions from basic pay over three months, the airline said in a letter to pilots.

Chief Executive Alex Cruz last month told BA staff of plans to cut jobs and ground aircraft as he warned that the airline faces a battle to survive after the coronavirus pandemic brought most air travel to a standstill.

At budget carrier easyJet, meanwhile, pilots and cabin crew have been asked to take three months’ unpaid leave in addition to a pay freeze and other changes to their contracts, such as the axeing of free meals while on shift.

Both airlines are exploring how to cut costs but retain staff as they try to wait out the current travel restrictions.

BA’s parent company IAG this earlier said it would cut flying capacity by at least 75% in April and May. EasyJet said that it could ground the majority of its fleet on a rolling basis.

EasyJet said it was consulting with its British employees over how they could help it to get through the crisis but did not give details of the discussions.

“Like all airlines, we are taking every action to remove cost and non-critical expenditure from the business at every level to help mitigate the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic,” an easyJet spokeswoman said in a statement.

BA, in its letter to pilots, said it had agreed initial measures with pilots’ union BALPA to address “the immediate threat to the business in the face of COVID-19 and the unprecedented impact this is having on the airline”.