British low-cost carrier Easyjet and one of the world’s biggest airlines, Delta, say they are in joint discussions over a takeover of beleaguered Alitalia, the flag carrier of Italy.

The deal would see the airlines, which have no history of partnering, form a consortium with Italian state rail company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane – a necessity given that Italy’s government has said a domestic firm must have a majority stake in the airline.

Last year all three companies made expressions of interest in a restructured Alitalia.

Easyjet today said it is “in discussions with Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and Delta Air Lines about forming a consortium to explore options for the future operations of Alitalia.”

It continued: “There is no certainty at this stage that any transaction will proceed and Easyjet will provide a further update in due course, if and when appropriate.”

Alitalia entered bankruptcy proceedings in 2017. Etihad had held a 49 per cent stake in the airline, but said at the time that it was “not prepared to continue to invest” without the support of all stakeholders.

It has been kept in the air by a €900m ($1 billion) state loan while it attracts bidders.,