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Etihad in talks over potential Airbus jet order: sources

DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways is in talks to buy jets from Airbus even as it puts the finishing touches to a reported deal with rival Boeing , people familiar with the matter said.

At least one of the deals could be announced at next week's Dubai Airshow, marking the first time the Abu Dhabi carrier has played a significant role at the showcase event hosted by its closest rival, Emirates airline, the people said.

The number of plane orders being discussed and the possible value was not immediately clear.

Etihad's potential interest includes the Airbus A320neo, a fuel-saving version of the European planemaker's best-selling medium-haul jet, as well as a modified or expanded order for its long-haul A350 aircraft, one source said.

Etihad and Airbus both declined to comment.

Reuters reported last month Etihad was close to ordering Boeing jets including 25 to 30 777X mini-jumbos, the new 777 version which is expected to be launched at next week's air show, and a repeat order for about 30 787 Dreamliners.

"I have made no comment on that at all; that is Reuters speculating ... I think you should wait until we make an announcement," Etihad's chief executive James Hogan told Dubai-based Arabian Business magazine last week.

People tracking the twin-track negotiations said Etihad's potential combined deals with Airbus and Boeing may cover the aircraft needs of all of its equity partners, which include Air Berlin , Virgin Australia and Aer Lingus .

An announcement of Etihad's 777X order could pre-empt a widely expected blockbuster deal for 100 or more 777X jets from Emirates airline , which has said it may announce a large Boeing order when it hosts the November 17-21 air show.

Word of parallel talks between Etihad and Airbus came on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the airline's first commercial flight linking Abu Dhabi and Beirut on Nov 12, 2003.

Boeing and Airbus officials have set up camp in the Gulf as they look to solidify plane orders with Etihad and other fast-growing carriers including Emirates and Qatar Airways that are buying more planes to expand their global reach.

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.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon, Tim Hepher; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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