EXCLUSIVE Spirit to postpone Frontier deal vote as JetBlue talks progress -sources

July 7 (Reuters) – Spirit Airlines Inc (SAVE.N) will postpone a shareholder vote scheduled for Friday on its $ 2.4 billion sale to Frontier Group Holdings Inc (ULCC.O) so it can continue negotiations about selling itself to JetBlue Airways Corp ( JBLU.O) instead, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Spirit shareholder vote, which has been delayed twice before, is expected to be pushed back by several days to give Spirit and JetBlue time to finalize a deal, the sources said, requesting anonymity as the discussions are confidential.

The delay is a boon for JetBlue, which submitted a sweetened $ 3.7 billion all-cash bid to acquire Spirit last month. Spirit has been reluctant to accept JetBlue’s offer, even though it is financially more attractive than the proposed Frontier deal, because of concerns that antitrust regulators may reject it, according to the sources.

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JetBlue is already facing a lawsuit from the US Justice Department over its partnership with American Airlines (AAL.O) in the New York and Boston areas.

The Frontier deal is also expected to face antitrust scrutiny. But Spirit and some analysts say that deal has a better chance of getting a nod from regulators.

There is no certainty JetBlue will provide Spirit the necessary assurances on the regulatory front to reach a deal and Frontier, which has already improved its offer, may come back with a new bid, the sources added.

Spokespeople for the companies declined to comment.

Spirit has been the target of a bruising takeover battle between Frontier and JetBlue since it first announced a deal with Frontier in February.

Both bidders view Spirit as an opportunity to expand their domestic footprints and reshape the US airline industry, which is largely dominated by four domestic carriers. An acquisition by either bidder would create the fifth largest US airline, at a time when the industry is currently grappling with labor and aircraft shortages.

Last week, Spirit was forced to postpone the shareholder vote until July 8. The sources said it did not have enough shareholders to back the Frontier deal at the time.

Frontier, led by influential airline investor Bill Franke, and JetBlue have repeatedly tried to outbid each other over the past few months.

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Reporting by Anirban Sen and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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