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Singapore Airlines to let 76 pilots go

Singapore Airlines said Wednesday it will ask 76 foreign pilots to leave before their contracts expire in order to slash manpower amid a global aviation slowdown.

The carrier said the pilots, who are on three-year contracts, will be asked to leave by June 30. But Singapore Airlines (SIA) would not say when their tenures were originally due to lapse.

"Singapore Airlines has taken the difficult decision to advance the planned release of 76 pilots who are employed on fixed-term contracts," SIA said in a statement.

"The airline had previously been releasing pilots only upon expiry of their contracts... The airline will assist them to pursue employment opportunities within the SIA Group and with other airlines."

SIA -- considered a bellwether for the full-service airline industry -- had earlier this month asked its captains to volunteer for unpaid leave, nearly a year after making a similar offer to its first officers.

The airline has also frozen its intake of cadet pilots as part of a slew of cost-cutting measures.

SIA said on Wednesday that it currently has a surplus of pilots after the global financial crisis "resulted in excess capacity and slower-than-expected growth".

Pilots on fixed-term contracts make up about four percent of the carrier's pilot workforce of some 2,400.

The airline has been hammered hard by high fuel prices and weak demand in the passenger travel and cargo markets due in large part to the debt crisis in Europe and a sluggish US economic recovery.

It is also facing tougher competition in the premium segment by Middle Eastern carriers and in the economy class by budget airlines, analysts have said.

SIA saw its net profit in the first-half of the current fiscal year ending March fall by 30 percent year-on-year. This followed a 69 percent plunge in net profit in the carrier's financial year ending March 2012.