UPDATE 2-Pandemic pushes airline SAS to 2 bln SEK loss in May-July

* Air travel slowly starting to pick up

* SAS fighting to get enough support for rescue plan

* CEO says hopeful of reaching a deal with bondholders

* SAS plans to ramp up operations further in Q4 (Adds CEO comments, background, shares)

STOCKHOLM, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Airline SAS swung to a deep loss in its third quarter as heavy cost cuts failed to offset the collapse in air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline, which is fighting to secure a cash injection from main owners Sweden and Denmark, said pretax losses in the May-July period amounted to 2.07 billion Swedish crowns ($235.8 million), compared with a profit of 1.49 billion a year earlier. Sales tumbled 81% to 2.51 billion crowns.

“Demand continues to return slowly and in line with the estimated ramp-up plan we presented in the second quarter,” CEO Rickard Gustafson said in a statement.

He added that the airline expected to reach 30%-40% of prior year available seat kilometres by the end of the fourth quarter but did not expect overall traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022.

SAS shares were up 9% in morning trade, reducing a year-to-date fall to 56%.

The airline is trying to gather support for a 14 billion Swedish crown recapitalisation plan announced in June but has yet to get enough debtholders onboard for the debt to equity conversions on which the owners’ cash injections hinge.

SAS said on Aug. 7 that so far holders of 42% of bonds and 53% of hybrid notes supported the plan ahead of bondholder meetings on Sept. 2 and a shareholder meeting later in the month.

Gustafson told Reuters on Tuesday that SAS had no updated figures, but added that he was hopeful of securing the numbers.

“Based on the talks and discussions that are taking place there is still reason to believe this will succeed,” he said, adding that if SAS did not get the cash injection it would find itself in a “very, very serious situation”.

$1 = 8.7803 Swedish crowns Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Simon Johnson, Kirsten Donovan