French aerospace company Safran officially opened its sixth plant in Querétaro this week, bringing its total number of Mexican factories to 19, but there are even more in the pipeline.
The company will make turbine blades for the LEAP jet engine at the new US $100-million facility located in the Querétaro Aerospace Park.
The plant is a joint venture with the United States-based company Albany International and is expected to be producing 20,000 fan blades a year by 2021.
At the inauguration ceremony, Querétaro Governor Francisco Domínguez revealed that Safran will also invest a further US $25 million to build another plant in the state.
In addition, sources with knowledge of the company’s plans told the newspaper El Financiero that yet another plant designed to supply the newest factory would also follow.
Federal Communications and Transportation Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza highlighted that Mexico already exports airplane parts worth more than US $7 billion annually and the industry is growing at an average rate of 17%.
Safran CEO Phillip Petitcolin, who also attended the opening event, said that Mexico was just getting started in the sector and that it would eventually grow at an even faster pace.
In an interview with El Financiero, Petitcolin said that the company had chosen Querétaro for its newest plant because it is already established there.
He explained that one of its Querétaro plants makes key components for engines and another manufactures landing gear parts, adding that the company also has three maintenance workshops in the state.
Petitcolin said that all new Boeing 737 MAX airplanes and 60% of Airbus A320neo planes will be equipped with the new LEAP engines and therefore require the blades that will be produced in the Querétaro plant.
Asked what changes he sees in Mexico’s capacity in the sector compared to 20 years ago, the CEO said the Querétaro government had introduced specialist training programs for the aerospace industry that were particularly beneficial for Safran.
“. . . There are students that will go through the school for training and they will be very well qualified from the first day they arrive at our plants,” he said, adding: “In Chihuahua and Tijuana, we don’t have that yet.”
Responding to a question that alluded to potential risks arising from a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, Petitcolin said that he didn’t foresee greater risks in Mexico than in other countries where the company has plants.
“[If] you have to pay taxes, you pay them, and if there is a customs duty between one country and another, you pay it. But this risk exists in many places where we’ve decided to establish competitive plants,” he said.
Safran recently acquired Zodiac, another French aerospace company, a move that Petitcolin said will bring even more benefits and employment to Mexico.
“We have the same needs and I believe that this company will bring even more opportunities to Mexico in the future . . . Mexico is one of the best places [to manufacture] the kind of products that we make,” he said.
However, the CEO stressed that Mexico is not just a labor supplier.
“We do engineering work here, we do a lot of maintenance, repair and operations [MRO] work. We need very capable and talented people to repair motors or undercarriages. We’re not only in the manufacturing stage in Mexico, we’re in the next stage,” Petitcolin said.
“I really like Mexico. Ten years ago, we used to compare China and Mexico in the aerospace sector . . . China is very good, but the Chinese put into practice what you tell them to, they do the work. In Mexico . . . they want to show you that they can do it even better. That’s a great advantage for Mexico,” he remarked.