PARIS, June 14 (Reuters) - Airbus sought on Friday to heighten anticipation surrounding a new longer-range version of its A321neo and hinted at new orders for its larger A330neo plane ahead of a Paris Airshow overshadowed by the grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX.
Sales chief Christian Scherer told a news briefing ahead of the June 17-23 event that the current longest-range A321 variant, the A321LR, had a range of 4,000 nautical miles and added "hint, hint, hint, maybe soon a little more".
Airbus has already started pre-marketing the longer-range A321XLR which will allow airlines to offer long trips in narrowbody planes on routes where demand is too slim to justify taking the risk of trying to fill a larger wide-body.
The aim of the plane, whose development was first reported by Reuters, is also to narrow the available market for a possible new middle-market jet that Boeing is contemplating as a replacement for its out-of-production 757 and 767.
Airbus plans to launch the A321XLR with a maximum takeoff weight of 101 tonnes and a range of 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km) based on some 210 seats, reaching as far as 4,800 miles.
Airbus officials avoided directly attacking arch-rival Boeing at a news conference ahead of the world's largest air show as the U.S. company's competing 737 MAX remains grounded for a third month.
Airbus is said to be concerned that any competition between regulators in the wake of two fatal 737 MAX crashes could disrupt the industry including the global supply chain.
Scherer said the Airbus narrow-body family is 5 percent more efficient per seat than its competitor. Boeing makes similar claims for the 737 MAX 8. Both companies have sold thousands of the upgraded jets which boast fuel savings due to new engines.
The two giants typically make brash marketing claims at air shows but this year's event is expected to be relatively sombre. (Reporting by Tim Hepher, Andrea Shalal, Cyril Altmeyer; editing by David Evans)