Spirit CEO says JetBlue wants to stop Spirit-Frontier merger

The CEO of Spirit Airlines suggested Thursday that JetBlue Airways is more interested in blocking a merger of Spirit and Frontier Airlines than it is in buying Spirit.

Ted Christie provided more details on why Spirit’s board rebuffed a $3.6 billion buyout offer from JetBlue in favor of a lower bid from Frontier.

Christie said “you don’t need to be an antitrust attorney” to see that federal regulators are unlikely to let JetBlue buy his airline while they are suing to break up JetBlue’s Northeast partnership with American Airlines on anti-competitiveness grounds.

JetBlue did not immediately comment on Christie’s remarks.

Spirit announced Monday that its board unanimously backed Frontier’s $2.9 billion offer because it is more likely to win regulatory approval. JetBlue’s CEO has hinted that his airline could respond by launching a hostile takeover effort against Spirit.

Shares of JetBlue have plunged 25% since the New York-based airline announced its bid for Spirit on April 4.

“Despite clear concern from JetBlue’s shareholders, JetBlue has continued to pursue disruption to the Spirit-Frontier combination,” Christie said on Spirit’s first-quarter conference call. “I had wondered whether blocking our deal with Frontier is, in fact, their goal.”

JetBlue and Frontier are fighting over Spirit because both say it would make them a stronger competitor against the nation’s four dominant airlines: American, Delta, United and Southwest.

Christie made his comments while discussing Spirit’s first-quarter results, which were released after the market closed Wednesday. Miramar, Florida-based Spirit lost $195 million compared with a $112 million loss a year earlier. The loss of $1.60 per share was two cents per share worse than analysts forecast.

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