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Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways buys 10 Boeing 787-9s, 2 cargo planes in $2.8 billion deal

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Fast-growing Gulf carrier Etihad Airways said Monday it is buying 10 more of Boeing's new 787-9 planes, making it the largest airline customer for that version of the much-hyped carbon fiber jet.

Etihad also signed up for two Boeing 777 cargo planes as part of the deal. It and Chicago-based Boeing Co. said the order is worth a combined $2.8 billion at list prices, though customers typically negotiate discounts.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad now has orders for 41 787s, along with options for 25 more.

Boeing has heavily marketed the 787, which it calls the Dreamliner, as more comfortable for passengers and 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than similar aircraft. The plane is made of ultra-lightweight materials and initially comes in two models — the 787-8 and the longer 787-9.

While Monday's deal will mean Etihad will operate more 787-9 variants than any other airline, it is not Boeing's top customer for the Dreamliner altogether.

That honour goes to International Lease Finance Corp., the aircraft leasing unit of American International Group. It has placed orders for 74 of either the 787-8 or 787-9 models. Japan's All Nippon Airways is the largest airline customer for both versions of the 787, with 55 orders.

ANA operated the first commercial 787 flight in late October. The plane's introduction was delayed for several years due to a series of manufacturing snags.

Etihad CEO James Hogan said Monday's order reflects the Abu Dhabi-based carrier's "confidence in the 787's ability to have a significant impact on our operating efficiencies and the passenger experience we can offer onboard."

The airline expects to receive its first 787 in late 2014 and get its last one by 2019. It plans to deploy the planes on routes from Abu Dhabi to destinations including Dublin, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Beijing and Nagoya, Japan.

Etihad is bankrolled by the oil-rich government of Abu Dhabi, the capital and largest of the United Arab Emirates. It has not yet posted a profit, but expects to break even for the first time this year.

Along with Dubai's Emirates and Qatar Airways, Etihad is increasingly challenging more established airlines on long-haul international routes that use the Gulf as a transit hub.

The three carriers' rapid growth has been a boon for Boeing and its European rival Airbus.

Emirates, the Middle East's biggest carrier, kicked off last month's Dubai Airshow with a massive order for at least 50 more Boeing 777s. That deal was valued at $18 billion — Boeing's biggest-ever single order in dollar terms until it was trumped days later by a $21.7 billion from Indonesia's Lion Air.

Qatar Airways used the Dubai show to place a $6.4 billion order for at least 55 Airbus planes, as well as a pair of Boeing 777 freighters worth a combined $560 million.

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