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By Karen Jacobs and Nivedita Bhattacharjee
Washington, Sept 3 JetBlue Airways Corp , mentioned as a possible takeover candidate if the proposed merger of US Airways Group Inc and American Airlines collapses, is not interested in a merger or acquisition, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit, CEO Dave Barger said JetBlue had an interest in assets such as airport gates that become available as a result of mergers. "But mergers and acquisitions: just not of interest to JetBlue. Independence into the future is our plan," Barger said.
The Justice Department and several U.S. states sued last month to block the merger of American parent AMR Corp and US Airways, saying it would hurt consumers by raising airfares and leading to service cutbacks. A federal trial to determine whether the two carriers will be allowed to form the world's biggest carrier is set to start Nov. 25.
Barger, who spoke by phone to the summit being held in Washington, also said that the carrier is on the right track and focused on increasing its footprint this year and into 2014, despite some on Wall Street being skeptical about its positioning between full service airlines like Delta Air Lines and no-frills carriers like Spirit Airlines
JetBlue shares have risen 7.52 percent since the beginning of the year, while Delta has risen 66.2 percent and Spirit is up 75.8 percent.
"I know we are penalized because we are growing. I know that we are and at the same time it is so important for us to continue to grow our network," Barger said.
The CEO also said the combined American-US Airways should not get more slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington if the merger goes through.
US Airways has 55 percent of takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National, and the combined airline would control 69 percent of slots there, the Justice Department stated in its complaint.
"US Airways is already in the No. 1 position at our nation's capital," Barger told the Reuters summit. "We actually think that they should remain at the level that they're at."
Barger added: "When you think about access into our nation's capital - we've worked for over 10 years to gain access into Reagan National Airport."
Barger said New York-based JetBlue, which is growing in markets such as Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is trying to gain more business passengers, wanted to get more slots at Reagan National.
JetBlue shares closed down 0.8 percent at $6.10 on Nasdaq on Tuesday.
Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits (Reporting by Karen Jacobs and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Washington; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)