Nearly 30 years ago, a military airplane wiring manufacturer started operating in the city of Chihuahua in northwestern Mexico. Today, some 45 aerospace suppliers have established facilities in what is now known as the Chihuahua Aerospace Cluster, producing a diversity of products ranging from aero structures to wiring harnesses.
The cluster was formally established in 2008 as a committee, concentrating on meeting the labor and educational needs of the few companies located there at that time such as, Zodiac Aerospace, , and Aerospace.
“As new companies were established in Chihuahua, the cluster developed an initiative to attract key players needed for the local supply chain and operations that would strengthen the already established operations,” says Rene Espinosa, the cluster’s president. “In 2013, a technological road map was developed for 2023 to identify strategic technologies and operations needed in the region to continue developing the local industry.”
Espinosa reports that in terms of employment, the Chihuahua Aerospace Cluster is one of Mexico’s largest aviation-focused clusters. “It has generated more than 17,000 direct jobs, and we are the most diversified aerospace cluster in Mexico,” he says. He adds that six out of the eight aerospace OEMs that have been established in Mexico are located in the cluster.
One project is a joint venture betweenand Zodiac Aerospace to produce interiors for Embraer’s current and next-generation regional jets. A pending project, he reports, would establish an aircraft MRO provider catering to single-aisle commercial jets.
Among the future plans for the cluster is to grow it as a supply chain base. “As that grows, it will lead to the development of more projects,” says Espinosa, even though Mexico is no longer the low-cost country it once was.
“Mexico is now considered a ‘best-cost country’ due to the manufacturing, engineering and design experience developed in the last four decades,” he says. “And while Mexico no longer competes with cheap-labor countries, it offers a highly skilled technical labor force, offering robust quality [manufacturing] systems, competitive salaries and a geographical advantage for the North American market.”
With some 80% of the cluster’s products exported to the U.S. and Canada, Espinosa is optimistic that protectionist talk in the U.S. will not lead to scrapping NAFTA. “Most people believe that it will be very hard for one man to change an international trade agreement like [the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)],” he says. “Approximately six million people—just in the U.S.—depend on NAFTA as the basis for their employment, and more than 19,000 U.S. companies operate in Mexico today.”