The JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines merger is a step closer to reality with the approval of the latter’s shareholders Wednesday.

Investors in Miramar, Florida-based Spirit approved the $3.8 billion deal with more than 50 percent voting in favor. Shareholder approval was a key, though not final, step in merging the U.S.’ sixth and seventh largest airlines.

“Today’s vote is a major milestone in our plan to join with Spirit to create a high-quality, low-fare national challenger,” a JetBlue spokesperson said.

JetBlue and Spirit still must secure regulatory approval from the U.S. Justice Department before the merger can close. That is far from a guarantee with the Biden administration taking a firm stance against consolidation in major industries, and for additional competition.

Both JetBlue and Spirit argue that by merging they will be a more formidible competitor to the largest U.S. carriers — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. But the combination would also remove the country’s largest budget airlines, Spirit, leaving the market entirely to smaller Frontier Airlines.

In July, Frontier lost a bidding war with JetBlue for Spirit.

JetBlue and Spirit hope to secure regulatory approval and close their merger by the first half of 2024.

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Tags: jetblue airways, mergers and acquisitions, spirit airlines, spirit takeover