Pilots at JetBlue Airways are the latest to back the carrier’s proposed $3.8 billion merger with Spirit Airlines. The combination, if it wins antitrust approval, would create the fifth largest airline in the U.S.
The decision to support the merger was recently approved by the JetBlue chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents pilots at the airline. ALPA also represents pilots at Spirit, however, the support is limited to the union’s JetBlue chapter at this time.
“The financial and market strength of the combined carrier represents an historic opportunity to protect and advance the careers of JetBlue pilots through the continued growth of the airline,” JetBlue ALPA Chapter President Captain Chris Kenney wrote in a motion viewed by Skift and approved by the union’s board on Tuesday.
Whether the pilots backing will get the JetBlue-Spirit merger over the line is unclear. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued to block the deal on competitive grounds, and a trial is scheduled to begin in October. The regulator argues that the combination would eliminate a competitor from the market that drives airfares down, which could hurt consumers.
A recent accidental disclosure in a separate civil suit to block the merger provided evidence that supports the DOJ’s argument. Lawyers for the plaintiff, in an incorrectly redacted summary of JetBlue internal documents, said the airline plans to raise airfares 24-40% on Spirit routes. JetBlue has denied the disclosure, and said that it was an “inaccurate picture of the facts.”
The backing of ALPA’s JetBlue chapter comes the same week that the airline reached a deal to divest Spirit’s assets in Boston and Newark to Allegiant Air if the merger happens. The aim is to reduce antitrust concerns at the key airports. JetBlue will also work with the operator of the Fort Lauderdale airport to make five gates used by Spirit there available to Allegiant.
ALPA is the second labor group to back the deal after the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents cabin crew members at Spirit, opted to support it in February.