JetBlue still hopes U.S. will not oppose Spirit merger

Planes resume flights following an FAA system outage at Laguardia Airport in New York
A JetBlue Airways jet comes in for a landing after flights earlier were grounded during an FAA system outage at Laguardia Airport in New York City, New York, U.S., January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - JetBlue officials are answering questions and giving depositions as the Justice Department presses on with its antitrust review of the company's plan to buy Spirit (SAVE.N), a small low cost rival, with a decision expected within weeks.

"We want to be bigger. This is about jobs. This is about growth," said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's (JBLU.O) president and chief operating officer, pledging that a bigger JetBlue would put make it harder for the four airlines with 80% of the U.S. market to raise prices. "We hope that the Justice Department recognizes that a bigger JetBlue is a great thing for consumers."

In July, JetBlue Airways Corp prevailed over Frontier in a months-long bidding war for Spirit in a $3.8 billion deal.

Geraghty declined to detail the company's interactions with the Justice Department, which is reviewing the deal to ensure it complies with antitrust law. She said JetBlue was not in negotiations with the government, but said the department was taking depositions. That step generally means that the government is at least considering a lawsuit aimed at blocking the deal.

"I would describe the talks as we are working through the regulatory process" she said. "It is strictly a legal process."

"We hope we don't get to the point of litigation," she said.

JetBlue is also awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department which asks the court to force JetBlue and American to scrap its Northeast Alliance. A trial in the case was held last year. read more

Spirit Airlines (SAVE.N) said on Tuesday it expects U.S. antitrust regulators to make their decision in the "next 30 days or so." read more

Geraghty said the two airlines would make up just 10% of the U.S. market. "This isn't Pepsi and Coke merging," she said.

Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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