PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) - Airbus (>> Airbus SE) is close to a deal worth at least $14 billion (10.68 billion pounds) to sell over 30 of its A380 jetliners to Dubai's Emirates to seek to secure production of its struggling superjumbo until the middle of next decade, two people familiar with the matter said.
The deal, if confirmed, is expected to be announced at the opening of the Dubai Airshow on Sunday.
Airbus said it does not comment on commercial discussions.
A spokeswoman for Emirates, which is by far the largest A380 buyer with 142 on order and 100 already delivered, said: "We do not comment on rumours or speculation."
The airline's chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said last week it hoped to order more A380s at the Nov 12-16 event.
The deal comes as Airbus trails rival Boeing (>> Boeing Company (The)) in orders this year, with 35 percent of their combined tally ahead of the industry's largest Middle East event.
That gap widened as Boeing announced orders and commitments for 300 jets during a visit to China by U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday.
The 544-seat European A380 entered service amid huge fanfare in 2007, but its future has been thrown into doubt by sluggish sales as airlines turn to efficient twin-engined jets.
Airbus has not sold a four-engined A380 since March 2015. So far this year it has posted only two cancellations.
Airbus has cut production of the A380 to eight per year from a peak of 30 but needs to secure more sales to hold production at this rate. It recently launched a programme of improvements called A380plus to make the double-decker jet more efficient.
Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders has said he believed it would be producing the superjumbo 10 years from now and was working on sales.
Airbus has almost 100 A380s left on order, but roughly half of these are seen unlikely to be delivered as airlines alter their plans. Of the rest, Emirates is the dominant customer.
"On the basis of the current order book its future is not terribly exciting, but an order for another 30 or so would underpin production to the middle of next decade," said Sash Tusa, aerospace analyst at UK-based Agency Partners.
Analysts say Emirates also has a stake in the future of the A380 because it has built a large part of its network and brand around the aircraft, alongside the Boeing 777, and could see the value of its fleet suffer if the programme fades away.
Its chief executive has praised the aircraft's ability to pull in passengers to its Dubai hub and lamented patchy interest from other airlines. But executives at many airlines remain worried about the challenges of filling such a large plane.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Keith Weir)
By Tim Hepher and Alexander Cornwell