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CORRECTED-EXCLUSIVE-Jet2 in talks to buy planes, Airbus front-runner - sources

(In final para corrects to show it has purchased 34 737-800 jets and operates a total fleet of 90 aircraft, not that it operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737-800s)

PARIS/LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) - British airline and holiday group Jet2 is in advanced talks to buy dozens of narrowbody passenger jets, with Europe’s Airbus seen as the front-runner in a potential blow to Jet2’s current supplier Boeing, industry sources said.

If confirmed, the deal could involve around 50 Airbus jets, worth approximately $5 billion before widespread airline industry discounts of at least 50%, one of the sources told Reuters.

“As a successful airline and tour operator we are constantly in discussion with different aircraft manufacturers, this is part of our normal course of business,” a spokesperson for Jet2 said.

Airbus and Boeing both declined comment.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources cautioned a deal would depend on the outcome of talks that are ongoing amid fierce planemaker competition in the wake of the coronavirus travel slump, but said Airbus was seen as current front-runner.

One of the sources however said it was too early to speculate on a deal with the European manufacturer.

Jet2’s potential order comes after a difficult 16 months for the UK travel industry.

Pandemic travel restrictions have lasted longer in Britain than the rest of Europe, and while demand has started to recover, fears over last-minute rule changes mean bookings this summer will be muted compared with expectations earlier in the year.

A year of booking surges followed by waves of holiday cancellations as restrictions change has, however, helped boost the popularity of package holidays, as customers see the benefit of an operator reorganising their trip for them.

Jet2 raised 422 million pounds ($586 million) through a share issue in February which it said was to help it ride out the COVID-19 pandemic.

It remains one of the few medium-haul airlines yet to make a choice between the latest generation of narrowbody jets, the 150-seat A320neo or larger A321neo, and the Boeing 737 MAX.

It has so far purchased 34 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, according to the manufacturer’s data. Including leased jets, the airline says it operates a total fleet of some 90 aircraft.

$1 = 0.7207 pounds Reporting by Tim Hepher and Sarah Young Editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes

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