Takeover talks between Emirati carrier Etihad Airways and debt-laden Italian airline Alitalia are still at an early stage, Etihad's chief James Hogan said today.
"It's early days. We are working through the process," Hogan told a news conference hosted by Etihad's German partner Air Berlin.

Mr Hogan said it was "very premature" to discuss the size of any shareholding to be bought by Etihad, adding that he had "no plan to make any announcement at the end of this month."

Last month, Etihad confirmed to AFP that it was in talks with Alitalia. 

Reports have suggested that the Abu Dhabi-based carrier is preparing a big investment in Alitalia, which is in debt to the tune of €1.2 billion. In October, shareholders gave unanimous approval for a capital increase of up to 4300m to save Alitalia from bankruptcy

The carrier has been looking for a foreign partner to rescue it.

Etihad is expanding rapidly and has bought minor shares in several smaller carriers around the world as it competes with larger Gulf rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways. Etihad owns 29% of Air Berlin, 40% of Air Seychelles, 19.9% of Virgin Australia and 3% of Aer Lingus.

In November, India's Jet Airways said it had completed the sale of a 24% stake to Etihad after obtaining regulatory approvals.

Etihad also announced in November that it was acquiring 33.3% of Swiss carrier Darwin Airline, which it plans to rebrand as Etihad Regional. The acquisition is awaiting regulatory approval.

The airline is also due to acquire 49% of Air Serbia this month.