PARIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Airbus has begun lining up tentative orders for a longer-range version of its A321 jetliner, seeking to exploit signs of hesitation at arch-rival Boeing over whether to develop a new model in a hotly contested niche of the airplane market.
The European firm is in detailed talks with airlines over the price and timing of the longer-range design - known as A321XLR - and has pencilled in some orders subject to a formal launch, expected this year, industry sources said.
Airbus is looking for 200-300 draft orders before committing to build the A321XLR, in a move that would limit the space available for a mid-market alternative that Boeing hopes to launch in a gap between medium-haul and long-haul jets.
"Every A321XLR that Airbus sells, means one less potential sale for the NMA (Boeing's proposed New Mid-sized Airplane)," an industry source said.
An Airbus spokesman said the planemaker is "always talking to customers" and declined further comment. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Richard Lough)