Unions are urging Air New Zealand to preserve as many jobs as possible as redundancy negotiations step up.

The airline says it needs to lay off a third of its 12,500 staff as it faces a drastic loss of revenue as flying comes to a halt due to border restrictions.

E tū says it is not convinced that the airline needs to lay off as many people as quickly as proposed. The union represents 5000 workers among Air New Zealand staff.

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E tū Assistant national secretary Rachel Mackintosh says that the company is moving faster than it needs to.

"It's time to take a breather and keep people employed until we actually know what's going to happen in the aviation industry domestically and globally," Mackintosh said.

Regardless of the problems the airline needed to remain a company where there were decent jobs and where workers were respected and valued, she said.

Every Air New Zealand staffer understood the ''massive challenge'' facing the airline, but the airline could not recover if workers did not have a say, she said.

"Forging ahead with extreme cuts will hurt too many people. It will undermine Air New Zealand and damage the economic recovery. It will damage the company's culture and slash at the company's brand promise. If they rush into this, Air New Zealand will forever be known as the company that kicked their workers while they were down."

She said the union understood the scale of the problem, but the company had options.

''They have $1 billion in the bank. They have access to $70 million worth of wage subsidy and a $900-million taxpayer loan to fall back on. To formally initiate redundancy talks while so many workers are on lockdown at home would be a mistake. It's just wrong.''

Mackintosh said the mid- and long-term future of flying in the Asia-Pacific region was open to speculation.

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''No one can really say what will happen. Domestic and regional flying will start to recover in the next few months as New Zealand emerges from alert level 4 and can travel again.''

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) wants all in the aviation industry to work together to keep jobs here rather than lose highly skilled New Zealanders to international markets once the recovery starts.

"We need to keep looking forward and be realistic – this is about planning ahead while still preserving as many jobs as possible and keeping food on the table," said Andrew Ridling, the association's president who is also a Dreamliner pilot.

"We have to accept that we will lose good people and their families from our tight-knit community, but this is an unprecedented and painful situation that requires a unique approach.''

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Ridling said he accepted that Air New Zealand needed to be at least 30 per cent smaller to remain viable. The association represents 1525 pilots among about 1820 in Air New Zealand's ranks.

''We also accept that the workforce needs to shrink to match this, even if only in the short to medium term. Job losses will impact every level of aviation, including our pilots."

He said it was a time for cool heads and a measured approach. Airlines worldwide are reducing their size, some by more than 70 per cent, while others were folding completely.

"We need to preserve what we can so that aviation can recover as soon as the conditions permit. This includes keeping the door open to bringing our skilled pilots back," he said.

"When level 4 is lifted, and when it is safe to do so, Kiwis must get out flying. This is the best way to preserve jobs and the future of our industry and our members. Our economy depends on this."

Air New Zealand says it is applying for the wage subsidy.

''We are very grateful that the Government introduced the subsidy. However, as we have outlined to our union partners, the wage subsidy only prevents the requirement for the airline to make even deeper cuts,'' said a spokesman.

He said it was not ideal having employment conversations via video conference or on the phone.

''However, no one in New Zealand has a choice about that during level 4.''