© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Airplane model is placed on displayed Spirit Airlines and jetBlue Airways logos in this illustration taken, June 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustrations/File Photo
By Diane Bartz and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -JetBlue Airways said Monday it believes the US Justice Department has a “high likelihood” of filing an antitrust lawsuit this week to block its $3.8 billion takeover of low-cost rival Spirit Airlines (NYSE:) Inc.
“We have always accounted for that in our timeline to close the transaction in the first half of 2024,” JetBlue said in a statement to Reuters. The Transportation Department, which is also reviewing the deal, is expected to take parallel action to stop the planned transaction, Bloomberg News reported.
Neither the Justice nor Transportation departments have responded to requests for comment.
JetBlue shares rose 2.1%, while Spirit fell 5.8% at mid-afternoon.
JetBlue prevailed in a months-long bidding war for Spirit Airlines after the ultra-low-cost carrier accepted its offer in late July.
JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes said on Monday he expected a government lawsuit to stop the deal and that the company would fight it, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“My expectation is that we will get sued by the DOJ this week,” Hayes was quoted as saying. My sense is that they came to the table with their minds made up.
The companies have offered to sell Spirit’s holdings in Boston and New York, along with some assets in Florida, in a bid to ease the government’s antitrust concerns.
The deal had been expected to face a tough antitrust review from the beginning because the four biggest airlines – American Airlines (NASDAQ), United, Delta and Southwest – control 80% of the market.
JetBlue has argued that the merger, which would create the fifth largest US airline with a market share of 9%, would allow it to better compete with the legacy airlines.