The 255 planes under discussion include as many as 100 to 150 for Dubai-based Emirates, about 50 for Qatar Airways Ltd. and as many as 30 for Etihad Airways, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the negotiations are private.
Boeing is betting that it can keep Airbus SAS at bay in the market for the biggest twin-engine jets by upgrading the current 777, not by building an all-new plane as its French rival is doing with the A350.
“This kind of order would definitely be a huge vote of confidence in the aircraft,” said Siyi Lim, a Singapore-based analyst at OCBC Investment Research. “The 777 is already a proven aircraft and most airlines already fly them.”
A purchase of 100 or more of the new 777s by Emirates would be Boeing’s largest-ever initial tally, surpassing the 50-jet order valued at $6 billion from Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc. to introduce the 787 Dreamliner in 2004, when the plane was still known as the 7E7.
Success with the 777X comes after Boeing’s troubles earlier this year with the 787 Dreamliner. The global fleet of 787s, Boeing’s most modern aircraft, was grounded for more than three months following the melting of lithium-ion batteries.
The grounding was the longest on a large commercial aircraft by U.S. and Japanese regulators since jets were introduced in the 1950s.
“Boeing sucked up a lot of costs associated with the 787, having significant delays, cost overruns and teething problem,” said Timothy Ross, Singapore-based transportation analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG. “They are probably keener to develop on an existing and successful variants rather than start from a complete blank piece of paper.”
Boeing shares fell 0.2 percent to $129.66 yesterday. The stock has surged 72 percent this year.
“We don’t comment on possible negotiations,” Marc Birtel, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said in a telephone interview.
Marco Larsen, a Qatar Airways spokesman at Public New York City, said he couldn’t immediately comment. Etihad said it had no comment, and Arielle Himy, an Emirates spokeswoman at MSL Group, said she couldn’t immediately comment on the orders.
“We do not comment on market rumors,” Elin Wong, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, said in an e-mail. “We will continue to evaluate all available aircraft models for our fleet needs.”
Shares of Cathay, which has also ordered Airbus’s A350-1000, rose 1.1 percent to HK$15.38 in Hong Kong. The stock has gained 8.2 percent this year.
For the 777X, Boeing is adding 50 more seats to the largest current 777 variant so it can seat as many as 400 people. The redesigned plane will feature the biggest engines ever and a wider, fuel-saving wingspan that can be shortened by having the tips fold up after landing.
Fresh 777X sales would build on Boeing’s momentum after Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA) agreed last month to buy 34 of the planes. While the 777X’s list price hasn’t been made public, the Lufthansa order implied a retail price of about $340 million, according to Peter Arment, a New York-based analyst with Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc. Buyers typically get a discount.
Earlier this month, Boeing’s decades-long dominance in jetliner sales to Japan cracked as Airbus won its first order from Japan Airlines Co., a deal for A350 type aircraft worth $9.5 billion.
“Boeing is banking on the new variant of the 777 to defend its market share from Airbus’s A350 series,” said Kelvin Lau, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Group Inc.
Airbus plans to hand over its first A350 to Qatar Airways toward the end of 2014. The aircraft had won 756 orders at the end of September from 38 customers.
Emirates is likely to be the so-called launch customer, Robert Stallard, an RBC Capital Markets analyst, wrote in an Oct. 28 note. The term refers to the first buyer to fly a new plane.
Emirates President Tim Clark has been urging Boeing to deliver the new plane as early as possible. Lufthansa said in September it would get its own first 777X in 2020.
“The scale of what we are contemplating is enormous,” Clark said in an Oct. 1 interview, while declining to elaborate on the potential purchase size. He said the airline, the largest operator of the current 777, intends to replace 175 of those aircraft with the new model.
The airline is studying “ways and means” to accommodate an order for 30 more Airbus A380 superjumbos, Clark said in an interview in January. The carrier is also the No. 1 operator of the world’s biggest commercial jet.
Emirates has a history of unveiling eye-popping deals at the marquee aerospace event hosted during odd-numbered years in its home city.
During the last such show in 2011, Emirates unveiled an order for 50 of the 777-300ER model, valued at about $18 billion at list prices, and options for 20 more. At the time, it was the largest order by dollar value in Boeing’s history. Indonesia’s Lion Air surpassed it days later with a $22.4 billion agreement to buy 230 Boeing narrow-bodies.
Some descriptions of the new 777X orders have begun circulating ahead of the show. The Financial Times reported this week that Emirates was considering an order valued at $30 billion or more. People familiar with the Etihad sale discussed that transaction last week.
The 777X will boast the biggest engines ever from General Electric Co., and the first model, the 777-9X, will be able to fly as far as 8,000 nautical miles (14,800 kilometers) with more than 400 passengers while burning 20 percent less fuel than the current 777.
A second variant, carrying about 350 people, will push past 9,400 nautical miles, enough to go nonstop from New York to Singapore.
(Julie Johnsson, Andrea Rothman & Tim Catts - Bloomberg)