Boeing has won a major wide-body order that may steal Airbus' thunder at the Dubai Air Show, which opens Sunday. Giant Middle Eastern carrier...

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Boeing has won a major wide-body order that may steal Airbus’ thunder at the Dubai Air Show, which opens Sunday. Giant Middle Eastern carrier Emirates is expected to announce at the show a firm order for up to 26 Boeing 777-300ERs.

That would be worth about $6 billion at list prices, before typical discounts of 30 percent and more.

The Emirates order will be Boeing’s biggest announcement at the prestigious biannual show, according to a person familiar with the company’s Dubai plans, though there may be smaller additional orders.

Boeing will also announce a new, larger version of its luxury airliner-turned-private-jet, the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), which has been popular in the Mideast.

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Because Emirates is one of Airbus’ best customers, the 777 order is a major win for Boeing in the bruising sales battle with its European rival.

Even before the show, orders this year for the twin-engine, fuel-efficient 777 have outpaced those for the four-engine Airbus A340 competitor, 45 to 14.

Emirates declined to comment on orders in advance of the show, as did Boeing.

One of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates on the coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai boasts a dazzlingly modern city of gleaming towers, artificial islands, opulent shopping malls and outlandishly lavish hotels.

The ruling sheik, Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, spent the nation’s oil wealth to forge a thriving non-oil economy out of the otherwise barren sands. The Emirates airline, a key piece of the national plan, aims to make Dubai a central hub for world travelers and a tourist destination for the upper-middle classes of India, China and Europe.

At the Dubai Air Show, Airbus will grab the attention of both media and Middle Eastern dignitaries by flying its A380 superjumbo jet every day. Emirates has no fewer than 45 of the huge 555-seater jets on order, worth more than $12 billion at list prices.

While some analysts doubt the airline can sustain the level of growth such orders imply, both major airplane manufacturers covet the carrier’s business — and its massive checkbook.

Expectations are high Emirates will commit to buy 50 Airbus A350s, now under development as a rival to the 787. That order had been expected in June at the Paris Air Show but failed to materialize.

Boeing executives believe it is not yet in the bag for Airbus. Boeing has offered a stretched version of the 787 to Emirates to try to snatch the order away.

“Emirates has been intrigued from day one with the technical attributes of the 787,” Marty Bentrott, vice president of 787 sales and marketing, said last week. “With what we are talking to them about, they’ll have to really think about their decision.”

If Airbus fails to announce an Emirates A350 order at the show, it will be a blow to its new jet program and an opportunity for the 787.

This week, Wachovia financial analyst Sam Pearlstein predicted in a research note that other orders up for grabs in Dubai may come from Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Libyan Arab Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Yemenia Airways.

Dubai is also the perfect venue for Boeing to announce the third version of its super-luxury private jet, dubbed the BBJ-3.

The BBJs are versions of the Renton-built 737 airliners with lavish interiors and extra fuel tanks for long range.

They are marketed as prestige private jets to governments, heads of state, big corporations and extremely wealthy individuals.

The BBJ-3, to be available in mid-2008, will be based on the largest version of the airframe, the 737-900, according to a Boeing insider familiar with the Dubai announcement.

It will include a stateroom with two executive seats and a conference room. The jet will also accommodate a full retinue, with 16 first-class seats, 20 business-class seats and 18 staff seats.

A regular 737-900 airliner, which seats as many as 200 passengers, lists for about $70 million. Based on existing BBJ pricing, that means the basic BBJ-3 airframe will likely list for about $60 million.

All interior fittings — expensively customized for each buyer — are extra.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com