* Etihad in talks for 25-30 Boeing 777X jets -sources
* Etihad may expand 787 Dreamliner order by 30 -source
* Emirates expected to place large order at Dubai Airshow
By Praveen Menon and Alwyn Scott
DUBAI/NEW YORK, Oct 21 Etihad Airways is close
to placing an order that could kick off a $50 billion jet-buying
spree from the Gulf as the region's carriers flex their muscles
in an industry hit by weak margins and high fuel prices.
Taking advantage of deep pockets and a geographically
strategic position between East and West, Gulf airlines are
expanding rapidly and diverting long-haul traffic from airlines
in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia.
Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad is expected to buy dozens of
Boeing Co jets, including the revamped 777X mini-jumbo
and a repeat order for its 787 Dreamliner, sources familiar with
the matter said on Monday.
The deal could be worth $18 billion at list prices and comes
as Etihad prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its
maiden flight on Nov. 12, highlighting the Middle East's
emergence as a fast-growing global travel hub.
If confirmed, Etihad's order could pre-empt a widely
expected blockbuster deal for 100 or more 777X jets from rival
Emirates Airline, which has said it may announce a
large order when it hosts the Dubai Airshow next month.
The deals are still under negotiation and could change in
size and timing, said the sources, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
Boeing's European rival, Airbus, is also competing for
Together with an order from Germany's Lufthansa in
September, the latest business is likely to ramp up competition
between planemakers by allowing Boeing formally to launch the
new version of its long-range 777X twin-engine jetliner.
Airbus has punctured Boeing's traditional dominance of the
market for big twin-engine jets with its new A350-1000 and
scored a historic breakthrough in Japan this month.
Two people familiar with the matter said that Etihad is
looking to buy 25 to 30 of the revamped 777X. And in a vote of
confidence for Boeing's Dreamliner, which has suffered a series
of technical problems, Etihad is also considering increasing its
order for the lightweight 787 Dreamliner by up to 30 aircraft,
the sources said.
Etihad, which has 41 Dreamliners on order, declined comment.
Boeing said interest was "high" for the revamped 406-seat
777X but declined to comment on negotiations and has yet to make
a formal decision on whether it will build the new aircraft.
Dubai's home carrier, Emirates, has said it is considering
what many in the industry expect to be a huge order for Boeing
777X jets at the Dubai Airshow to be held Nov. 17-21.
Emirates President Tim Clark was quoted last month as saying
that much work needed to be done to finalize commercial terms
and that the airline would not go ahead with any deal until it
was ready, but industry sources say that speculation is rife
that the deal could be worth as much as $32 billion.
"The much bigger news would be a non-launch (of the 777X in
Dubai), or a launch with tepid numbers," said Richard Aboulafia,
analyst at Virginia-based Teal Group, referring to expectations
of a formal launch of the 777X at the Dubai show.
"Since Boeing has been carefully designing the 777X to meet
their (Emirates Airline) needs, anything less than a 70-100
aircraft firm order would raise questions. And a non-order would
be a disaster for Boeing."
Boeing has been carefully timing the launch of the 777X,
saying it will start building only when the design is right and
airlines have placed sufficient orders.
But airlines want the jet to arrive by the end of the decade
to replace aging 777s, and Emirates in particular has been
clamoring for it for more than a year.
In contrast to the years-long wait for the 777X, Airbus is
highlighting the availability and reliability of the A330. It
also will try to land orders for its new A350 and its A380
superjumbo. Emirates is the biggest customer for both, and has
said it wants to buy more.
Airbus' nearest competitor the 777X is the 350-seat Airbus
A350-1000, the largest member of the newest family being
developed by the European company.
Airbus said on Monday that flight trials for the A350 are
going well and that it will stick to its target of delivering
the first of the lightweight jets in the second half of 2014.
State-backed Gulf airlines are famous for making a splash
with big orders, often at the Dubai Airshow. In 2011, Emirates
placed an $18 billion order at the biannual show, the largest
single order in Boeing's history.
Qatar Airways, another big Boeing customer with an order of
30 Dreamliners, has expressed interest in the 777X but is viewed
as the most cautious of the Gulf's big three.
Budget carrier flydubai, which is fast expanding its routes,
also is expected to place a $5 billion order for 50 narrowbody
jets at the Dubai show and is looking both at Boeing's 737 MAX
and the Airbus A320neo.
Saudi Arabian Airways and Kuwait Airways, which put on hold
plans to buy 25 new aircraft from Airbus in September, will also
look to finalize a deal in Dubai next month.