TOKYO, May 6 (Reuters) - Japan Airlines Co said on Friday it expects passenger demand for international flights to recover to 45% of its pre-pandemic levels this business year as the sector rebounds from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline projected the number of flights to North America to return to pre-pandemic levels in the second half of the business year which began on April 1, and to the upper 80% range in the business year as total.

It is hoping for demand for Southeast Asia to be back to about 60% or 70%.

Recovery would be much slower for flights to mainland China and Hong Kong due to strict anti-COVID measures, said Yuji Saito, JAL's managing executive director.

"As for the return of (travel) demand, I believe that we are now in the phase of a strong recovery," said Japan Airlines President Yuji Akasaka.

Passenger demand for domestic flights was expected to be around 90% of pre-COVID levels for the current business year.

The remarks came the day after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida suggested Japan would review its border control measures in June.

The government is considering letting tourists from group tours in and increasing a daily arrivals cap to 20,000 from 10,000, the Nikkei business daily reported on Friday.

JAL posted an operating loss of 239.4 billion yen ($1.83 billion) for the business year that ended on March 31, but expected an operating profit of 80 billion yen ($613.03 million) in the new business year.

Rival ANA Holdings said last week it estimated a return to annual profit of 50 billion yen, facilitated by a strong domestic flight demand and easing in international travel restrictions. ($1 = 130.5000 yen) (Reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by Kim Coghill)