Dubai: Etihad Airways has expressed early interest in a total or partial takeover of Italian carrier Alitalia after the Abu Dhabi-based airline submitted on Friday a non-binding offer for the stake, a source has confirmed.

Italian media reported that Etihad was one of 10 companies submitting offers for Alitalia. A source close to the matter on Sunday confirmed to Gulf News that Etihad has sent its offer, but stressed that that was not legally-binding, meaning that Etihad might not acquire any additional stakes after a deal is finalised.

Other carriers that submitted offers include Ryanair, according to Italian media. The deadline for loss-making Alitalia to receive non-binding offers was on Friday (July 21).

The Rome-based carrier, which has struggled to compete with low-cost rivals including Ryanair, went into administration in early May, moving Alitalia a step closer to liquidation amid efforts to find a buyer. If no buyer is found, the administrators will have to organise Alitalia’s liquidation.

The source from Etihad said that Alitalia’s administration is expected to reach out to bidders to discuss the offers further, but did not disclose when that may happen. They added that because the offer is not binding, this may not necessarily go forward.

Etihad has a 49 per cent stake in Alitalia.

In an official statement, Etihad Airways declined to confirm or deny the news, but said, “Strong ties continue to exist between Alitalia and Etihad Aviation Group, and we remain open to exploring all options to maintain and potentially deepen those ties for mutual benefit.”

Italy’s government said in May it would provide a loan to keep Alitalia aircraft flying for another six months.

On Thursday, Etihad announced it sold its minority stake in European regional carrier Darwin Airline. The sale was the first of its kind after the Abu Dhabi carrier launched a strategic review, which puts stakes in Alitalia as well as Air Berlin in doubt.

— With additional inputs from AFP