EAGAN (AP) -- Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group expressed interest in a deal with Mesaba Airlines two weeks before Northwest Airlines announced a bid to buy the regional carrier, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mesa Air Group wrote Mesaba suggesting that the two explore "a possible business combination," according to the filing disclosed Thursday.
Airline analysts said the Mesa Air initiative may have prompted Northwest, which already owns a large chunk of Minneapolis-based Mesaba and has executives on its board of directors, to jump in with an offer before Mesa did.
Mesa Air disclosed to the commission that it owns 3 percent of Mesaba -- 660,000 shares -- a stake that has soared in value since Northwest's offer was disclosed after the market closed Wednesday.
Northwest, which already owns a 28 percent stake in Mesaba, has offered $13 a share for the rest of its outstanding shares. The proposed deal is valued at about $190 million. Mesaba has appointed a panel of outside directors to study the offer.
Mesaba closed Thursday at $13.62, up $2.56 a share. Northwest stock closed Thursday at $28.38, up 12 cents. Mesa Air closed at $5.56, down 6 cents.
Mesa Air's efforts to court Mesaba may have led to Northwest's proposal, industry observes speculated.
"It may have forced Northwest to speed up a strategic move it didn't intend to make at the moment, before things got more complicated and possibly more expensive," said George Hamlin, senior vice president of Global Aviation Associates, an airline consulting firm in Washington.
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