Emirates Airline and 777 Brand

Emirates Airlines, which already flies Boeing Co.'s long-range 777 wide-body commercial plane, is expected to place an order for dozens of 787 Dreamliners built at the aerospace giant's plants in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. Provided/Boeing Co.

Emirates Airlines is getting closer to announcing a big order for Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner as the carrier teams up with low-cost partner FlyDubai to expand regional service, according to an analyst's report Monday.

"Detailed intelligence states that the 787 will be Emirates' smaller wide-body airplane choice," Saj Ahmad said  on his Strategic Aero Research website. "Snaring Emirates is a massive coup for Boeing — something we've predicted for over three years now."

A spokesman for Emirates, which is based in Dubai, could not be reached for comment.

The deal would be a coup for Boeing, which builds the Dreamliner in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. The 787-10, the newest and largest version, is built exclusively at the South Carolina campus.

A report this month by Aviation International News said Emirates "was close to choosing" between the Airbus A350 and the 787 Dreamliner to replace its aging wide-body fleet. However, London-based Ahmad said the decision is "a done deal" and "a question of when, not if."

Emirates is believed to be in the market for between 50 and 100 mid-sized wide-body planes to fly medium- to long-range routes. Ahmad said the airline's order likely will be for a mix of 787-9 and 787-10 models.

The airline on Monday announced a partnership with discounter FlyDubai in which the government-owned carriers will feed passengers onto each other's flights and expand service. Ahmad said that will let FlyDubai operate single-aisle planes on short routes while Emirates concentrates on longer flights using twin-aisle Boeing 777X aircraft already on order or lower-capacity Dreamliners on routes that don't require such a large plane.

"The 787 will become its smallest wide-body and allow them to open up more city pairs where frequency, not capacity, is king," he said.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates, declined to say whether the airline was leaning toward Airbus or Boeing in a recent interview with The National, an English language news website based in Abu Dhabi.

Boeing spokesman Fakher Daghestani told The National: "We are actively working with Emirates to support their fleet expansion, however we cannot comment on any specific campaign."

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Ahmad said he expects Emirates will announce its Dreamliner order this year, most likely at the Dubai Airshow in November, with deliveries to start in 2021 as the airline begins retiring its A380-800s and 777-300ERs.

"Realistically, Emirates cannot afford to let it linger until the 2019 Dubai Airshow, because that would mean deliveries would not be able to commence within less than 24 months, given the current backlog and lack of openings right now," he said. "This is why I think they will bite the bullet this year, lock in the slots and then reconfigure their fleet in advance of the first 787 arriving."

Talk of an Emirates wide-body order has been circulating for years, and the airline appeared to be ready to make an announcement at the 2015 Dubai Airshow. Concerns about the Dreamliner's performance in hot-weather conditions, however, scuttled a deal at that time. The National report points to the Dreamliner's fuel efficiency as a key factor in its favor this time around.

Boeing has about 700 Dreamliner orders in its backlog, or about five years of production. The aerospace giant is one of the Charleston region's largest employers, with 7,320 workers and contractors.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_