Lufthansa insists its creation of an Italian division at Milan Malpensa does not preclude potential future involvement with a resurrected Alitalia.
The German carrier, which is formally unveiling its Lufthansa Italia operation tomorrow, has been tipped as a possible investor in Alitalia.
Alitalia is being relaunched by an investment consortium which, as part of the rescue, is expecting to acquire Rome-based Air One - with which Lufthansa already has a partnership.
Creation of Lufthansa Italia also reinforces its presence at Milan, from which Alitalia has been retreating in its efforts to restructure its loss-making operations.
But a spokeswoman for Lufthansa says that the Italia operation is not necessarily a signal that Lufthansa is not prepared to tighten links with Alitalia.
"The door is still open," she says. "We are still watching to see what happens."
Lufthansa Italia will initially use a fleet of six Airbus A319s to serve destinations in Europe from February next year.