ROME, Italy (CNN) -- A group of Italian investors has withdrawn its €1 billion ($1.4 billion) offer to save Alitalia -- putting the future of Italy's flagship airline in serious jeopardy, the company's board of directors said Thursday.
The offer was rescinded after the trade unions refused to accept the overall business plan to rescue the stricken airline.
The unions were given a 3:50 p.m. (1350 GMT) deadline to accept the plan. Instead of accepting or rejecting it, they sent a letter with a counteroffer, essentially offering to work longer hours for the same salaries, but requesting fewer layoffs.
The board of directors voted to turn down their counteroffer.
Withdrawing the offer does not mean Alitalia will be grounded immediately. But what happens next is a matter of speculation.
The government special commissioner who was put in charge of Alitalia when the company declared bankruptcy at the end of August may have little choice but to begin the liquidation process.
However, some analysts and observers point out that before liquidating the company, the special commissioner would have to ensure that there are no other buyers interested in purchasing the airline.
It is the third attempt to sell the airline that has failed since the previous government decided to privatize the airline nearly two years ago.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had said he was confident that a solution will be found, said the situation is "dramatic." "We have reached the edge," he said after the deal was pulled.
He said before the investors backed out that the airline's 20,000 workers should not expect generous financial packages in the event of liquidation.
Trade union representatives say they are ready to take a temporary pay cut to ensure Alitalia continues operations, but that seems to be an offer to make sure public opinion does not blame them for running Alitalia into the ground.
Without the offer, Alitalia is left with only 30 million to 50 million euros in cash -- enough money to supply fuel for a few more days at the most. This means planes could be grounded sooner rather than later.
There were no immediate reports of cancellations or delays of Alitalia flights.
Another possibility is that Italian civil aviation authorities could suspend Alitalia's license to fly on the grounds that it cannot ensure regular flights.