By Praveen Menon and Nadia Saleem
DUBAI (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways kicked off the Dubai air show on Sunday with a mega-order worth $25.2 billion at list prices for 56 Boeing (BA) planes, as Gulf carriers take advantage of deep pockets to aid their ambitious expansion plans.
The airline, the emirate's flagship carrier, ordered 25 of Boeing's revamped mini jumbo 777X airplanes and 30 787-10 Dreamliner planes, along with one additional 777 freighter for its cargo fleet, it said in a statement.
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.
Etihad has options and purchase rights for 26 additional airplanes from the U.S. plane maker, it said, including rights for 12 additional 777X airplanes and 12 additional 787-10s.
Etihad became the first airline to order the 777-8X and will be a launch customer of the airplane, which is expected to enter service around the end of the decade, it said.
"We rarely make announcements at the airshow but when we do, the world takes notice," said Etihad's Chief Executive James Hogan, speaking at a news conference.
When Sunday's order is combined with the carrier's previous order for 41 787-9s, Etihad Airways becomes the world's largest airline customer for the Dreamliner family with a total of 71 787s on order.
The 787-10 is the newest and largest member of the 787 Dreamliner family.
Etihad's order pre-empted a widely expected blockbuster deal for 100 or more 777X jets from rival Emirates Airline (EMIRA.UL), which says it will order more planes at the show.
Boeing (BA) looks set to dominate the Airshow with more than $100 billion of deals as it aims to launch its latest long-haul jet with up to 250 potential orders from as many as five airlines, industry sources have said.
(Writing by Dinesh Nair; Editing by William Maclean)