British Airways is in talks to create a full-blown alliance with Swiss, the airline created out of the near-collapse of Swissair two years ago.
It is understood that not only would Swiss join BA's OneWorld alliance but that it would also apply to the European Commission for "anti-trust immunity" for an alliance to share routes, landing rights and facilities.
BA already has such a deal with Qantas, the Australian carrier, and has applied to Brussels for approval for a similar deal with Iberia of Spain. A deal with American Airlines was dropped two years ago after regulators demanded too many concessions, though BA hopes to resurrect it in the future.
BA has also held talks with KLM, the Dutch airline it tried to merge with three years ago. However, KLM appears more likely to strike a deal with Air France, which will take a 25 per cent stake in KLM. BA was not prepared to buy any shares in KLM.
The Swiss deal depends on the airline agreeing to substantial cuts in staffing and the number of long-haul aircraft it operates. Swiss last week revealed a loss of SFr333m (£150m) and admitted it was in talks aimed at forging an alliance.
BA would not comment on plans to strike a deal with Swiss but its chief executive, Rod Eddington, said: "OneWorld is talking to both the Dutch and the Swiss." He said he hoped to get a ruling from Brussels on the Iberia deal soon, and was confident a deal could be reached.