Tomás Sibaja
Executive President
Baja Aerospace Cluster
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Insight

Supporting an Industry Without Borders

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 10:42

As the oldest aerospace region in Mexico, Baja California could expand not only as a manufacturing base but as a technology enabler. The time is now, according to Tomás Sibaja, Executive President of the Baja Aerospace Cluster.
“International companies brought their maquila operations and that is how Baja California started as a global platform,” says Sibaja. “Now, it is time to think about our own capabilities to develop a national and sovereign industry in this sector.” The problem, from Sibaja’s perspective, is that even though Mexico has had access to aerospace technology for over 50 years, the country has not grown its own industry. “Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong started as maquila suppliers but eventually they learned from their masters and started developing their own products.” Now even China, Sibaja continues, is producing its own aircraft.
Sibaja suggests that the timing is now to move ahead the state’s capabilities as demographics plays to Baja California’s favor. Mature economies in the aerospace sector are lacking skilled talent in proportion to the existing and future demand in the aerospace sector. “This is a generational game changer. Instead of wanting to participate in manufacturing activities, younger generations in the United States and Europe prefer the service sector, which creates a gap in the natural process of talent renewal in engineering, math and logical thinking required and demanded in the aerospace sector. There are not enough young people to engage in manufacturing at the rate that the industry demands in those countries,” he says. “In 20 years, the number of passengers will double and aircraft production is expected to increase accordingly. Without suppliers, it will be impossible for OEMs to deliver on this promise.”  Mexico must take advantage and reach out as a natural ally on a number of fronts.
Of several challenges, one is at the core of the Baja California Aerospace Cluster: to invite more suppliers in the region to service this industry. The Baja California Aerospace Cluster has made support for SMEs a priority. “We are constantly looking for opportunities based on the industry’s needs. That is how we can best support the development of Mexican companies and increase our wealth as a region.” According to Sibaja, the Baja California aerospace cluster is the only organization of its kind in Mexico certified by INADEM, the entity in the federal government aimed at providing access to funding to support SMEs wanting to participate in the sector.
With 104 companies in the industry located in Baja California and 33,000 direct jobs created in 2016, Sibaja understands the potential the state has and the business opportunity that exists due to Baja California’s proximity to California as a natural liaison with the largest aerospace market in the world. “We do not only serve commercial aviation but also the defense business segment in the US,” he says. “Very few states in Mexico participate in this segment.” Almost 40 percent of what Baja California produces goes directly to the US Department of Defense. The cluster also services the space segment. "Several companies in the state focus on the production of micro, nano and femto components working closely with universities and research centers to develop our own propulsion systems that will catapult Mexico’s own position in the space race in specialty space niches," Sibaja explains.
Baja California is also active in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles. Sibaja says the state has maintained its leadership in the production and use of these vehicles. “We have also been actively involved in the establishment of regulations for drones, collaborating with the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, Transport Canada in Canada, and the DGAC in Mexico.”
MRO activities also present a business opportunity for the state, mainly due to the importance of the Tijuana airport. “Baja California has the largest flow of commercial, tourism and pedestrian border crossings in the world and Tijuana with the massive investment in its airport and the only one of its kind in the world, including a unique pedestrian crossing uniting two countries, will eventually reach the status of a mega aviation city, or ‘aeropolis,’ within the next 20 years.”