Starting from virtually nil at the turn of the century, aerospace is now a $5 billion export industry in Mexico that employs some 31,000 people. The Ministry of Economy is coordinating a national plan based on the strengths of six regions. Chihuahua is to build on its vocation for precision-machined products, while Baja California looks to attract knowledge-process outsourcing. Attracting foreign aerospace companies has been key to this process.
Cessna, for example, produces electrical components for its Citation business jets in Chihuahua, and Honeywell makes jet engine components in Mexicali. Mexican companies such as Volare Engineering and Soisa, which make airplane interiors and seats, are growing alongside these international firms.
Various regional centers vie to attract foreign aviation firms and to develop domestic suppliers. Local authorities proudly promote the triple helix concept, whereby governments and universities promote industrial development. Plantronics, a Santa Cruz, California, firm, is just one example of this concept in action. The company moved product design operations to Tijuana and now coordinates its R&D with engineering students from nearby universities. Many of these students are hired by the company and with research funding from Mexico’s National Science and Technology Council have brought several Plantronics products to market.
State technical universities are ramping up their aerospace design and engineering resources. Universidad Technologico de Tijuana’s recent half-million-dollar investment in the French company Dassault trains students to produce and use Dassault’s 3D aircraft design software.
With Mexico graduating 100,000 engineers annually, three times as many per capita as the U.S., the capacity for design in Mexico is promising. Honeywell has a design center in Mexicali, and General Electric employs 1,300 engineers in Querétaro to design commercial airliner turbines.
With the U.S. capturing 59 percent of the world’s aerospace and defense market, Mexico’s access to U.S. markets is essential for future success. In addition to its NAFTA advantages, Mexico holds a privileged position in the highly regulated U.S. market through its Bilateral Air Safety Arrangement, and its membership in the 41-nation Wassenaar Arrangement for regulation of defense industry products. With 20 percent annual growth in the sector since 2004, hopes are high that Mexico will reach its goal of exporting $12 billion in aerospace products by the end of the decade.
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