Emirates airline is all set to place orders for the 777X, Boeing’s latest long-haul jet, at the Dubai Airshow,  which takes off today with high industry expectations, Khaleej Times has learned.
Talking to the paper on the sidelines of a media roundtable in Dubai, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive officer Ray Conner said Emirates, the biggest operator of the 777 and the Airbus A380 superjumbo, would commit to the 777X “very soon”.
Pressed how soon, the Boeing executive burst into laughter before he responded: “I hope very soon. I hope within the week.”
Asked about Boeing’s expectation from the airshow, Conner said he hoped it would be a good show. “I have a decent feeling about it.”
Speculations moved to high throttle after it was announced late on Saturday evening that Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman and CEO of Emirates airline and Group, would hold an urgent meeting with the Press at the airshow today.
An order for as many as 150 upgraded 777X aircraft will place Emirates on the trajectory to become the largest airline in 2020 by international traffic with a fleet of over 250 aircraft ferrying 70 million passengers.
The rejuvenated 777 will have a fourth-generation composite wing and a new advanced GE engine with Laminar Flow Nacelles to cut fuel burn by around 20 per cent, making it the most economical aircraft in the world.
The first variant, 777-9X, will be able to fly as far as 8,000 nautical miles ferrying over 400 passengers, while the 777-8X can travel more than 9,400 nautical miles with 350 passengers.
London-based StrategicAero Research chief analyst Saj Ahmad said Emirates would make “not only the headline story of the show, but also the biggest news item of 2013”.
“Their planned split order for 777-8s and 777-9s is poised to be the biggest jet deal that Boeing has ever landed. Some insiders state the new 777 will be rebranded as 777 MAX, following the 737 MAX nomenclature,” he added.
Emirates was likely to buy 150-200 such jets, with the bigger portion comprising the 777-9, analyst Ahmad said, adding that at list prices, the order could be worth as much as $40 billion or more. “It just goes to demonstrate that Emirates, like other Gulf airlines, is not afraid to put their money where their mouth is.” 
Boeing’s Conner said the Gulf was an important region for the plane maker. “When you look at the growth projected to occur here, Gulf carriers are expected to outpace airlines in other regions. So this is an important region for us. With their central location and the capacity they have been able to create in terms of airports, the Gulf is in a unique position to serve multiple areas of the world.”
Conner said he believed in giving back to the community here. “Partnership is really important to us — partnerships with respect to the industrial side and any other way we work together to create (synergy). We have done some of that and we are looking to do more of that.”
Asked if Boeing would be ready to help set up manufacturing here, he said if countries wanted to develop such capability, the US giant would look at that.
Conner said the company was committed to the 777X schedule, which was to bring the aircraft to the market by the end of the decade, despite Boeing workers’ rejection of a new labour deal.
Boeing machinists on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected an eight-year labour contract extension that would have let them build the newest jetliner in Washington state, where Boeing has a 97-year presence.
Conner denied that Boeing pushed early negotiations to extend the labour contract, which was to expire in 2016, in order to accelerate the 777X schedule.
“We will continue to look at broad options, including new locations,” Conner said, adding that the criteria for site selection would be investment capacity, technological capability, and issues like tax incentives.
Conner ruled out further negotiations with the International Association of Machinists, saying the ball would remain in their court.
Boeing’s drive for automation had nothing to do with the labour dispute, he said. “There is lots of automation when it comes to composite technology. We are looking at automation in the fuselage area too. But that has nothing to do with the labour negotiations,” he said, adding the company had made the new labour package as attractive as possible, including restructuring of pensions and higher healthcare benefits.
Conner made it clear that Boeing would execute its 777X plan irrespective of where the airplane was built. “We will do it in a manner that we meet the commitments we have made to our customers in terms of the timings of the delivery.
“But our first focus is to try to give the opportunity to the state of Washington,” he added.
Asked whether the recent $9.5 billion Japan Airlines order for 31 Airbus planes challenged Boeing’s dominance in the Japanese market, Conner said: “Boeing and Japan have a long historical relationship on the industrial as well as airline sides. But that does not necessarily mean to ensure that the Japanese airlines are going to buy our products. We still have to go and compete to do that. It’s not like the government tells these guys what to buy and what not to buy.”