Air France-KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has engaged Alitalia (AZ, Rome Fiumicino) in early exploratory talks, sources close to the discussions have told the official ANSA news agency.

According to the report, the negotiations kicked off in Paris on Thursday, January 18. The Franco Dutch carrier, which was Alitalia's leading shareholder with a 25% stake back in 2013, was granted access to the bankrupt Italian carrier's data room "so that it may have access to information it did not previously have".

On the basis of the new data, the sources said technical teams from both sides would then meet to discuss various aspects of the talks.

Earlier this month, Air France-KLM was linked to a joint-offer with easyJet (U2, London Luton) for Alitalia, a claim it subsequently denied.

Alitalia's bankruptcy commissioners are currently considering offers from three candidates including Lufthansa Group with the other two believed to include easyJet and US investment firm, Cerberus Capital. However, although the Germans have been considered to be the strongest contenders to assume control of Alitalia's flight operations, CEO Carsten Spohr has conditioned any further participation in the bidding on hard-hitting cost cuts at Alitalia, including a reduced headcount.

"While recognising the valuable measures that have been undertaken to date... we strongly believe that there remains a considerable amount of work to be achieved before Lufthansa would be in the position to enter comprehensively into the next phase of the process," Spohr said in a letter to Alitalia seen by ANSA.

Last Thursday, the European Commission said it would look into Rome's decision to extend a EUR600 million bridging loan to Alitalia, along with a more recent EUR300 million top up, following complaints from major rivals that it broke market regulations against state aid.

Brussels is reportedly awaiting clarification from the Italian government so it can begin assessing the case, the sources said.