WASHINGTON - The Justice Department sued Tuesday to block a deal that would have allowed United Airlines to acquire 24 takeoff and landing slots at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Federal officials said the deal with Delta Air Lines (DAL) would have given United (UAL), already the dominant airline at the airport, an even greater competitive advantage that would have driven up fares for the 35 million passengers who fly in and out of Newark every year.
"We know from experience what happens when competition is allowed to flourish. This transaction will have the opposite effect. That is why we are seeking this injunction," Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said in a conference call announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, alleges that United already controls roughly 73 percent of the slots allocated by the Federal Aviation Administration, or over 10 times more than its closest competitor.
United expected the deal with Delta to clear regulatory approval. In anticipation of swapping slots, United already pulled out of New York's JFK International Airport, moving all of those flights instead to Newark. Its last JFK flight was on Oct. 25.
Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. fell 16 cents to $60.01 in midday trading, while shares of Delta Air Lines Inc. lost 42 cents to $50.21.