In one part of Queretaro in central Mexico, technicians overhaul commercial aircraft engines and landing gear. Across town, engineers assemble fuselages for one of the most modern business aircraft on earth, the Learjet 85.
Industrializing nations like Brazil and China get a lot of attention for their thriving aerospace sectors. But Mexico's aerospace industry, too, has gone wheels up and taken flight, with a lot less world notice.
More than 260 aerospace companies now operate in Mexico, exporting some $4.3 billion in aircraft and parts last year. The Mexican government has set a target of $12 billion in such exports by 2020, a figure that would surpass aerospace exports from Brazil and Spain.
Major clusters of aerospace companies have settled in the Tijuana-Mexicali corridor along the U.S. border, in the city of Chihuahua in northwest Mexico, and surrounding this high desert hub in the geographical center of the country. Smaller clusters have formed in Monterrey in the northeast and in the port city of Guaymas on the Gulf of California in Sonora state.
Local officials are hoping that one day Queretaro (pronounced keh-REH-tah-roh) will be uttered in the same breath as aviation centers like Seattle and Wichita, Kan., in the United States, Montreal in Canada, and Toulouse in France.
Unlike other up-and-coming aerospace powers, Mexico neither supplies its own defense needs nor produces its own aircraft. But just about every component imaginable for jetliners and helicopters can be manufactured in Mexico today, including jet turbines and fuselages.
It's only a matter of time before the nation may design its own aircraft, experts here say. Dreams already are taking shape.
In an office in the National Aeronautics University of Queretaro, Rector Jorge Gutierrez de Velasco leans back and reflects on Mexico's aerospace achievements.
"History tells us that clusters take decades to take shape. Then as they develop, advancing along with Mexican engineering, development processes, educational and economic capacities and so forth, maybe we can talk about producing an Aztec Uno or a Huitzilopochtli," Gutierrez said, reaching for possible names for an aircraft from his nation's history prior to the Spanish conquest.
First off, though, he said the nation wants to see a new foreign aircraft, no matter the brand, take off with 50 percent of its components "Made in Mexico."
Big U.S. companies with operations in Mexico include Hawker Beechcraft, Gulfstream Aerospace, General Electric, Textron and Honeywell. France's Safran Group, Canada's Bombardier Aerospace, Netherlands-based Fokker and Spain's Aernnova, a major supplier to Airbus, Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer, also have set up production in Mexico.
Some 30 foreign companies have operations in this city of 1.8 million people.
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"A great point in Mexico is that it's really easy to work with authorities. When we suggest something, they listen and they help in any way they can," said Claude Gobenceaux, director general of Messier Services Americas, a division of Safran, and head of the Queretaro aerospace cluster, an informal industry group.
As an example, he said, foreign companies in Queretaro discovered that while local engineers were numerous, technicians who knew how to operate precision machining equipment were not. The National Aeronautics University set up a program.
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