Federal antitrust enforcers are preparing to file a lawsuit seeking to block JetBlue Airways’ proposed $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines.
The deal, announced in July of 2022 after JetBlue topped a rival bid for Spirit from Frontier Airlines, would create the fifth-largest carrier in the U.S.
Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice could move to halt the transaction as early as Tuesday, CBS News confirmed.
A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment.
Robin Hayes, CEO of New York-based JetBlue, told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he expected the Justice Department to file suit to stop its deal for Spirit this week, saying that antitrust officials “came to the table with their minds made up.” JetBlue would fight such a government suit in court, he told the paper.
Hayes has said that combining JetBlue and Spirit, a discount carrier, would spur competition in the airline industry. In defending the merger, JetBlue said Monday that the two airlines mostly compete with other major carriers, notably American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. JetBlue and Spirit overlap on no more than 11% of their respective nonstop routes, according to JetBlue.
The combined airline would have a fleet of roughly 460 aircraft and would add more than 1,700 daily flights to more than 125 destinations in 30 countries, JetBlue said last year. Together, the companies would have 9% of the market, compared with 16% to 24% for the four largest airlines, JetBlue added.
JetBlue has also faced opposition to the Spirit purchase from other quarters. A coalition of consumers and flight attendants in November sued to stop the deal on grounds it would let the combined carrier dominate certain routes, according to Bloomberg Law.
The Justice Department, along with six states and the District of Columbia, in 2021 also sued to block JetBlue and American from consolidating their operations in Boston and New York City, arguing that it would harm competition.
—CBS News’ Jeff Pegues contributed to this report.