Regulators approve Midwest Air sale; Northwest has stake

(AP) - Antitrust regulators have approved the sale of Midwest Air Group Inc. to private equity firm TPG Capital.

Milwaukee-based Midwest, operator of Midwest Airlines, agreed in August to be bought out by TPG for about $450 million in cash.

The company said Justice Department regulators closed their investigation of the acquisition. The deal was expected to close Thursday.

"It's a very positive step forward," said Midwest spokesman Michael Brophy, who declined to discuss the details of the transaction further.

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Carol Skornicka, Midwest Airlines senior vice president and general counsel, said the company would have more to say after the deal closes on Thursday.

A spokesman for TPG also declined comment.

Antitrust regulators had to approve the sale because it includes rival Northwest Airlines Corp. as a passive investor. TPG will own Midwest, but Northwest put up nearly half of the money. Northwest has said it would not participate in Midwest's management.

The TPG deal followed months of escalating offers from rival AirTran Holdings Inc., the Orlando, Fla.-based operator of AirTran Airways. AirTran had hoped to merge Midwest under its name to create a low-cost national carrier.

But Midwest said repeatedly that it wanted to remain independent, even as AirTran escalated its offers and eventually got three people voted onto Midwest's board of directors.

The TPG deal, Midwest board members had said, would allow Midwest to continue operating under its own name with its trademark leather seats and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

It also offered more value to shareholders, with a cash offer of $17 a share. AirTran's final offer would have given Midwest shareholders $10 in cash and 0.6056 of a share of AirTran stock for each Midwest share.

It was worth $445 million when it was made in August, but the value fluctuated with the price of AirTran shares.

TPG put up 53 percent of the purchase price, or $238.1 million. Northwest promised to pay 47 percent, or almost $213.3 million, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)