(Bloomberg) -- The US Transportation Department awarded 16 coveted flight slots at Newark Liberty International Airport to Spirit Airlines Inc., denying requests by rivals JetBlue Airways Corp. and Alaska Air Group Inc.

The government said Spirit is “most likely to provide the lowest fares to the most consumers,” according to a statement released Tuesday. The decision gives Spirit access to times for 16 flights during peak hours at Newark, settling a contest for the slots even as Spirit is being fought over with competing offers by hostile bidder JetBlue and favored suitor Frontier Group Holdings Inc. 

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the amount of traffic that is allowed to operate out of airports in busy air spaces like the New York and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas by allotting flight “slots” or timings, with each representing one takeoff or landing. The Newark slots originally were operated by Southwest Airlines Co. when it acquired them in 2010 as part of a Department of Justice demand related to the merger of United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Continental.

Like Spirit, JetBlue had sought all 16 slots in Newark, while Alaska had asked to be awarded four. JetBlue has offered to divest Spirit assets in New York and Boston to help secure antitrust approval for its prosed acquisition.  

Newark, one of the three main airports serving as gateways to New York City, already is so congested that United has asked the DOT and FAA to intervene. It’s part of a long-simmering dispute between United, which operates a major hub at Newark, Spirit and JetBlue.

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