By Nate Raymond and David Shepardson
BOSTON (Reuters) -A U.S. judge on Tuesday scheduled an Oct. 16 trial in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking to halt JetBlue Airways Corp’s planned $3.8 billion acquisition of ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines Inc.
U.S. District Judge William Young in Boston scheduled the nonjury, four-week trial during the first hearing to be held in the blockbuster case, which the Justice Department filed two weeks ago.
While JetBlue had sought an earlier trial date in September, Young said October was the soonest he could make time for the case. He promised to move expeditiously, and said he believed he had an “obligation” to try to rule by the end of the year.
“I’m perfectly prepared to handle the matter and look forward to it,” Young said.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt by President Joe Biden’s administration to push back against further consolidation in industries with the fewest competitors.
The Justice Department, which sued alongside the states of Massachusetts and New York as well as Washington, D.C., said the merger of JetBlue and Spirit would “combine two especially close and fierce head-to-head competitors.”
It called the deal “presumptively illegal.” It also said that JetBlue planned to remove 10% to 15% of seats from every Spirit plane.
JetBlue has argued that the merger, which would create the fifth-largest U.S. carrier with a market share of 9%, was good for competition and would allow it to better compete with the big airlines.
The case is separate from a still-pending antitrust lawsuit the Justice Department also filed in Boston that seeks to force American Airlines and JetBlue to scrap their U.S. Northeast partnership because it would mean higher prices for consumers.
The parties are awaiting a judge’s ruling in that case after a trial last year.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)