updated 11/13/2011 6:24:14 AM ET 2011-11-13T11:24:14

Dubai's fast-growing airline Emirates kicked off the region's biggest airshow Sunday with an order for 50 Boeing 777s, which the U.S.-based aircraft maker described as its biggest single order in dollar terms in history.

The list price for the deal is $18 billion, but airlines typically negotiate discounts for large orders.

Although the Gulf airlines are the among the world's most ambitious in expanding their fleets and routes, a deal the size of the Emirates contract had not been expected at the airshow because of the large backlog of planes already on order for Emirates and rivals such as Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and Qatar Airways.

The deal, announced by Emirates chairman and CEO Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, is for an extended-range version of the 777-300. Emirates already has 95 777s in service, which is the most of any carrier.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said the deal is the largest single aircraft order in dollar terms in its history.

"It sustains a lot of jobs in the United States — several thousand," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Before Sunday's order, Emirates already had 40 of the planes booked. That means it now has nearly as many of the twin-aisle planes on order as it already operates.

Emirates is the Middle East's largest carrier. It is owned by the government of Dubai, which is recovering from a debt-fueled financial crisis that came to a head two years ago.

Its young fleet also includes Airbus A330s, A340s and the double-decker A380.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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