The Mexican Aircraft Industry

Airplanes are made up of thousands, if not millions, of specialized parts that require sophisticated and exacting manufacturing. The Boeing Company says that its 747 is made up of over 6 million individual components. México is known for its automotive export market and the recently negotiated NAFTA 2.0 agreement has demonstrated México’s robust industrial market for American companies.

One industrial segment that has yet to receive much attention is the growing aerospace industry.

The Mexican aerospace industry has been growing at a steady pace in terms of manufacturers and components exports over the last decade or so. In 2007, México had about 150 companies making aerospace components. That year, México exported $2.7 billion for the aerospace industry. In 2008, México’s aerospace market bypassed China as the largest exporter of aerospace materials. By 2011, the number of Mexican aerospace manufacturing companies had grown to 260 companies. The export market jumped to $4.3 billion in 2011. By 2016, there were 300 aerospace manufacturing plants operating in México and the market had grown to $4.75 billion.

It is expected to grow to $8 billion this year and grow to $12 billion by 2020.

Clearly the Mexican aerospace industry is becoming a significant part of the Mexican economy.

The status of any nation includes its indigenous technology capability. The less a country depends on technology from other countries for its technology needs the better the country can weather political chaos like the chaos Donald Trump created for México’s economy over the last two years.

Although México is building aircraft based on other’s technology, the experience is allowing México to develop its own indigenous aerospace industry infrastructure and expertise.

Lost in the noise of NAFTA 2.0, Trump’s attacks on México and Mexican politics are moves within México’s military that signals significant military and political changes in México military long-range plans. México recently retired its small air intercept/air superiority fleet of 1960’s F-5 fighters leaving México without the ability to deploy air defense assets.

México is slowly upgrading its air force capability by focusing on internal COIN-focused (counterinsurgency) aircraft with an investment in helicopter and fix winged aircraft. One of the most significant investments has been in the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II turboprop military trainer, starting in 2012.

Although classified as military trainers, the light attack aircraft has the capability to drop bombs, launch missiles and provide close air support. The platform is perfect for drug interdiction duties and counter insurgency operations in addition to providing flight training for future glass-cockpit fighter pilots.

Additionally, the T-6C offers “commonality” between the U.S. Air Force and its Mexican counterpart for ongoing strategic cooperation in drug interdiction and other military missions.

The T-6C is manufactured by Hawker Beechcraft. When México was looking at updating its air force capability, it entertained aircraft from Brazil (Super Tucano), Russia and Switzerland, among others. One of the most important requirements was that México be given access to the technology and capability to maintain its own aircraft fleet.

The Mexican military had discovered in the 1990’s the folly of depending on other countries for logistical support of its military aircraft when the Swiss government refused to provide logistical support to Mexican-owned PC-7s during the Chiapas uprising. The next year, the Swiss government refused to honor its commitment to sell $238 million worth of 48 Pilatus PC-9 turboprops to México because of the uprising.

From there, the Mexican military industrial complex started a program to wean itself from foreign dependence on its military infrastructure.

As a result, the requirement for the refresh of the Mexican aircraft fleet was the requirement that the fleet not be as dependent on foreign politics.

Beechcraft, the manufacturer of the T-6C, already has manufacturing plants in México. Beechcraft is making business jets in México.

CAE, an aircraft logistics company, is developing a T-6C ground-based integrated training system for the Mexican Air Force for pilot training in México.

After the initial order of a dozen aircraft in 2012, including two for the Mexican Navy, the Mexican government increased the order to 60 aircraft as of 2017.

The synergy between aircraft manufacturers continues beyond the T-6C purchase trickling through other company partnerships. Boeing, the manufacturer of the sophisticated 787 Dreamliner, which the Mexican Air Force recently deployed as México’s Air Force One, or the primary presidential aircraft, depends on thrust reversers from its Mexican plant.

In addition to the thrust reversers, Boeing will also start making engine cowlings for the 787 in a plant currently under construction. Other companies are manufacturing aircraft components, like wings, tails, bodies and electrical harnesses in Mexican companies.

But the Mexican aerospace industry goes beyond making parts.

Honeywell Aerospace has an aerospace testing center in Mexicali and General Electric has over 600 Mexican engineers in Querétaro designing jet engines.

American airlines are using Mexican aircraft maintenance plants for the heavy maintenance of its passenger fleets.

A 2007 U.S.-Mexican bilateral agreement (Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement) allows Mexican officials to certify aircraft parts.

The agreement encourages more technology development in México for the aerospace industry.

As the aerospace footprint in México continues to grow, Mexican companies are looking to manufacture indigenous-engineered aircraft for the internal and export markets. There are a few Mexican-engineered aircraft currently under development and/or testing.

The Mexican military has also embarked on its project; Proyecto Azteca, which started ramping up the design and manufacture of Mexican-designed and engineered aircraft to serve military requirements. We will delve deeper into this tomorrow.

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