Luis Azua
General Manager of Bell Helicopter
Textron International Mexico
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View from the Top

Low Cost No Longer Mexico's Sole Advantage

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 13:42

Q: What role does Mexico’s market play in Bell Helicopter’s global strategy?

A: Mexico is a vital asset for the Latin American region. Its Mexico City office, opened in 2015, serves as one of the company’s regional sales hubs. Although demand around the world has decreased significantly due to a variety of factors, including oil and commodity prices, political changes and currency fluctuations, we continue to see interest in our products across various market segments. Our clients include HeliServicio, ASESA, Grupo Condores and SEDENA, with whom Bell Helicopter has enjoyed a close relationship for the past 50 years. We also have a strong potential market in private aviation, especially in Mexico City as the capital is plagued by traffic problems, and helicopters offer an alternative.

Our commitment to sustainability led us to acquire the LEED Silver Certification for our plant, the third building in Mexico to obtain this certification. Our commitment is to our employees’ safety and our goal is to have zero accidents. To accommodate our operations, we are working with INTERMEX under the shelter program.

Q: Why did Bell Helicopter bring manufacturing to its plant in Chihuahua?

A: Bell Helicopter has been in Mexico for over 65 years and the company chose Chihuahua based on its convenient location and the time zone but most importantly because of the state’s manufacturing expertise. Mexico is a strong market for us. In light of growth in our commercial department, the company realized that manufacturing helicopter parts in the country would be beneficial. In Chihuahua, we manufacture cabins and harnesses and perform small assemblies for several Bell Helicopter aircraft.

Our manufacturing focuses exclusively on commercial helicopters in Chihuahua but our commercial aircraft also are used in military and paramilitary operations. We recently delivered 15 Bell 407 helicopters to the Mexican air force. We also have two maintenance centers in Mexico City for testing and the repair of helicopter parts.

Q: How will Bell Helicopter continue expanding its operations here?

A: As this plant has been very successful, it is often considered for expansion by our headquarters. We do not have any concrete plans to date but we are studying various solutions that will lead to local growth. Market analysis will indicate which new products and processes will be beneficial to our operations in Chihuahua and we likely will increase harness production for the models we are manufacturing and incorporate production for other models.

Q: In what ways is the company helping to shape the local aerospace sector?

A: Bell Helicopter is contributing to the aerospace industry in Mexico by implementing the newest manufacturing techniques, such as lean manufacturing, and many other lessons from the automotive industry, such as Kanban and automation. Lean manufacturing processes like these have allowed us to optimize our plant’s processes and we have been recognized for our practices, on-time delivery and our low inventories.

While all research and development is performed in our US and Canadian offices, several Mexican engineers are optimizing processes for our plants. In fact, our engineers have improved assembly instructions for all components of the Bell 525.

Q: How would you describe the education level of Chihuahua’s university graduates?

A: Graduates are very qualified as local institutions have committed to adapting their syllabi to industry needs. We collaborate with the local cluster to communicate what companies require of their personnel but the continuous improvement of education here is evident in their level of expertise after graduating. Bell Helicopter contributes with an internship program to support education, which now has 10 students. Several interns even join the company long term on completion of this course. Many of our 300 employees were permanently contracted following a similar program.