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Chihuahua Cluster Set for Long-Term Growth: Espinoza

Chihuahua’s Aerospace Cluster in Mexico has attracted national and international attention in recent years due to its speedy pace of growth and ability to attract foreign direct investment in the sector. Tania Espinoza, Cluster Manager, says there is no question of taking the foot off the pedal.

“We believe having a long-term plan is critical for success. Currently, we are working on updating the Technological Road Map 2013 for the aerospace industry in Chihuahua with a 12-year vision,” Espinoza tells GBP Aerospace & Defence in an interview. “We want to ensure that the development of the sector continues.”

Chihuahua was recognized by Financial Times as one of fDi’s Aerospace Cities of the Future 2018/19, ranking among the top five in Best FDI Strategy story_category and making the Top 10 list in Best Cost-Effectiveness.  The cluster not only offers incentives for international companies interested in starting operations in the region but has also introduced incentives programs to strengthen the competitiveness of Chihuahua SMEs, says Espinoza.

Following are edited excerpts from the interview:

How many aerospace companies currently exist in Chihuahua? How many of them are international companies? What was the situation ten years ago?

Chihuahua’s Aerospace Cluster was born as a Committee of Aeronautics in the Export Manufacturing Companies Association, Index Chihuahua and defined as a Cluster in 2008. Currently the Cluster integrates five OEMs that include Textron Aviation, the merger of Cessna, Beechcraft and Hawker, Bell Helicopter, Honeywell Aerospace, Bombardier Aerostructures Division and the joint venture of Embraer and Zodiac Aerospace called EZ Air.

In addition, there are more than 40 certified world-class companies and divisions including the Safran Group and its business units Labinal Power Systems, Safran Engineering Services, Zodiac Aerospace with 9 different divisions like Seats, Seat Shells, Evacuations Systems, Water and Waste Systems, Fokker recently acquired by GKN, Lisi Aerospace, Soisa Aerospace, Arnprior Aerospace, Kaman, Metal Finishing Co., Tighitco, Nordam, Altaser Aerospace and Atlas Group. There are also distributors such as Wesco Aircraft, Align Aerospace, Souriau, and AE Petsche Co.

What has been the impact of the aerospace industry in terms of creation of jobs in the region?

Chihuahua’s Aerospace companies generate more than 17,000 jobs (1/3 of country’s total).

What is the pace of development of the aerospace industry in Chihuahua? Do you expect to sustain or increase the speed of growth over the next decade?

The development of the aerospace industry in Chihuahua has been quite fast. The establishment of OEMS, large companies, SMEs, R&D and education centers in the past decade, says it all. During the past four years, various aerospace companies in the region have expanded. In the upcoming years, we expect the establishment of new operations.

What are the areas of specialization of the cluster? How does it differ from the other aerospace clusters in Mexico?

The areas of specialization of the Cluster are aircraft interiors, aero structures, sheet metal, high precision machining, slides and rafts, special processes and composites. In 2013, Chihuahua´s Aerospace Cluster worked on a technological roadmap that comprised 27 technological packages, including machining, forging, interiors, special processes and avionics. The industry and the cluster identified the technological packages that needed to be developed in coordination with the government and academia. We have been working towards the goal. Without a doubt, having a well-defined vision helped to achieve the integration we have now.

What are the support services that Chihuahua´s Aerospace Cluster provides to aerospace companies in the region?

The Cluster focuses its efforts on six initiatives: Supply Chain, Certifications and Training, Education, Promotion, Mega Projects and Technology. 

All of the above support the aerospace industry in the region. In the case of supply chain, local suppliers are connected with potential buyers (OEM’s, TIERs1 & TIERs 2) to facilitate the integration of companies into the value chain.

In relation to certification and training, the initiative consists of launching important training courses and certifications, such as the transition of the AS9100 Rev D, FMEAS, etc.

Through education, we aim to ensure the proper correlation between academic programs and the skills required by the industry, promote continued interaction between schools and aerospace companies, and anticipate future skills in all manufacturing levels.

How supportive is the state government in developing the aerospace industry in the region? 

Very. I often like to say that the stars are aligned for us! We have not only made an incredible team with state government but city government as well. Both governments are very committed to contribute to the development of the Chihuahua aerospace industry.

Does Chihuahua have a workforce problem in the aerospace industry? What are some of the steps being taken to ensure that there are adequate numbers of qualified workers?

Chihuahua does not have a workforce problem. The cluster has developed various strategies and actions to support the development of human capital for industry, in conjunction with educational institutions. Recently, a collaboration agreement was signed with Tec Milenio de Chihuahua for the development of quality aerospace certificates, which will be under international certification standards.

The university will have support from the main players in the industry such as: Zodiac Aerospace, Fokker-GKN, Kaman, Metal Finishing, and EZ Air. This initiative will be replicated nationwide.

In October 2017, a Situational Job Analysis was carried out to update the curriculum of the Aeronautical Engineer course at the Polytechnic University, achieving the participation of 8 key companies in the sector. Another survey was conducted to update the situational diagnosis of education-industry, with the objectives of projection of talent needs, identifying weaknesses in human talent, training needs, and periodic updating of careers.

It´s important to mention that 98% of the engineers and technicians of the region are local and there are currently valid international agreements with universities for student mobility.

Does the cluster collaborate with any international bodies? Is the organization targeting businesses in any particular country for potential investment in the region?

We are part of the European Cluster Collaboration Platform and have collaborated with international associations and clusters such as GIFAS and ACstyria specifically, organizing commercial missions to detect business opportunities between regions.

It is important for us to attract potential investment around the world, not just one country in specific. Some of the business opportunities in Chihuahua that have been targeted by the Mexican Federation of the Aerospace Industry are forgings, castings, sheet metal, machining and thermoforming.

What, if any, are some of the major challenges for the aerospace industry in Chihuahua?

The challenges of the aerospace industry are nationwide. One major challenge is to strengthen the supply chain since there are not enough suppliers that satisfy the growing demand of the aerospace industry in Mexico due to the requirements that are required to be met by those interested in joining the supply chain (i.e. AS9100, NADCAP certifications).

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