Etihad latest to flirt with Boeing’s proposed 777X

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Etihad Airways has joined the growing list of potential customers for Boeing's proposed 777X development, as it cuts back further its orders for the rival Airbus A350-1000.

The Abu Dhabi airline's chief executive, James Hogan, says that while the carrier is still scheduled to take A350-1000s from 2017, an order is also possible for the enhanced 777 being evaluated by Boeing.

Although he confirms talks with Boeing, Hogan would not be drawn further, saying: "We have a good relationship with Airbus and Boeing, but those talks are in the boardroom behind closed doors."

In 2011, Airbus detailed a revamp of the A350-1000, along with a rescheduled programme that pushed first deliveries back by two years to 2017.

Etihad cancelled six of its 25 A350-1000 orders last year amid concerns over the robustness of the delivery schedule. The carrier, which also dropped four Boeing 787s from its orders last year to take three 777s, then booked 10 more 787s and two 777 freighters at the end of 2011.

"We're still taking A350-1000s, but we took the view that the delivery could be at risk, so we changed the orders and built up the 787 order," Hogan says.

Airbus's order data to 30 April 2012 shows that Etihad has cancelled seven more A350-1000s, leaving the carrier with a dozen on the airframer's books.

Etihad's revelation of its 777X interest comes after Tim Clark, president of fellow A350-1000 customer Emirates, said last year that the airline could place a launch order for the proposed derivative. British Airways is also evaluating the design. Clark has been extremely vocal in his criticism of Airbus's decision to revamp the A350-1000 last year without proper consultation, and sources say that other customers share his frustration.

Hogan says Etihad will take the first of 10 A380s in 2014, boosting its fleet from 71 jets at end-2012 to around 160 by 2017, if A350-1000 deliveries remain on schedule.