By Wendy Fry
Tomás Sibaja is the president of the Baja California Aerospace Cluster and a leader in the aerospace industry in Mexico. He sees Baja California as part of one of the most important aerospace hubs in the world.
The Baja California Aerospace cluster is the largest and oldest of its kind in Mexico with 125 companies supporting an estimated 37,000 employees in Baja California. This cluster has an estimated export value of more than US$2.5 billion a year, of which 85% is exported to U.S. clients with the rest to Canada and Europe.
We got a chance to ask him a few questions about his reflections on 2020 and what’s in the future for the cluster that oversees defense, space, drones and aircraft, and commercial aviation business segments in Baja.
How did you get started in the aerospace industry in Baja California?
I started this venture in the aerospace sector in support of John Riley, a good and passionate friend, in love with aeronautics. He had a vision when he started in the maquiladora industry in Baja in the early sixties. He believed that Mexico had the capability of more complex operations and he was quite right. I just landed from Paris, France into Baja in 2009 and he invited me to pursue this dream. He was the President of the Aerospace Cluster of Baja California.
He then suffered cancer and I took charge as acting President while he recovered. He did recover but he felt, after a slow recovery, that it would be better to continue so I did, with a great team of experts in my Board of Directors, and a great staff of young and smart personnel. Most of our activities and initiatives are included in our website www.bajaaerospace.org and Facebook.
Where does your passion for this work come from?
I truly believe in opportunities and this region with a bi-national approach has plenty to offer in the aerospace industry. In addition, the aerospace community is highly educated and follows stringent values and principles that provide a natural basin to work pleasantly and amicable in a very demanding global arena.
Technology and innovation are inherent in all business segments of our aerospace industry in Baja. As a cluster, we kept ourselves busy learning and providing the inputs required to all interested parties.
Baja California has led for over five decades the aerospace industry in Mexico. A recognition and legacy started by John Riley that became our Honorary President and that sadly passed away last November.
Do people in the U.S. have any idea how big this industry is here in the border region?
The aerospace industry, although important in value and impact in all participating economies and aerospace corporations in the world, is an industry embedded from within, and net-tight differentiated from other sectors.
Once you are involved, in due time, you will start recognizing a vast majority of players (companies and people) and regions. The West Coast of United States is one of the most important aerospace hubs around the world and Baja California is part of this industrial corridor. Even more, in the global eyes, the aerospace industry does not see countries, they see regions, and we are an important borderless region in the value chain not only to US but also to Europe and Asia.
The public has misconceptions and misunderstanding in general, but luckily, most of them relate to good vibes and good perception. Usually people not related to our aerospace industry are ignorant to the mainstream information mostly reserved and exchanged among aerospace players and that creates a mix halo of exclusivity and inspirational desire. Yes. Our industry is specialized and complex at best.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for growth?
The aerospace world is gradually moving to advanced materials and innovation initiatives related to better performance, reduction of emissions, and aerodynamics. Henceforth our students and companies are welcoming more initiatives for a better service, better efficiency, and better value.
We as cluster are an integral part of this process involving the triple helix (government, academia, and industry) in Baja and Mexico. We are witnessing a gradual evolution in our manufacturing production in Baja California, driven by these grand integrators such as Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Gulfstream, Fokker, Sikorsky, along with their Tiers
What have been the major adjustments because of the coronavirus pandemic in how the industry operates in the region?
The coronavirus has been a disruptor but also has taught us many splendid life lessons. Let us not forget that in our industry prior the pandemic we experienced a large backlog on aircraft deliveries estimated at US$400 billion in 2019 which represents a volume estimated of 7,000 units and delivery time in a pipeline averaging 7 years – and every year that value and volume kept increasing – aside of the unstoppable passenger traffic worldwide.
Since our base is manufacturing, most of the aircraft orders in 2020 were canceled and few new orders were required compared to previous years; therefore, in our region, our mission has been to cut the backlog and reduce the manufacturing stress caused.
Yes, airlines have suffered. The passenger traffic has declined. The economic impact in the aviation industry has been catastrophic. However, this industry is resilient with superb expertise and knowledge ready to tackle new challenges. We are certain that recovery will be gradual but positive starting in 2024, no doubt about it. Aside of the backlog commitments, we in Baja California also have adjusted our production lines to service other segments within the aerospace industry, precisely to service the demand mostly in U.S.
The pandemic has distracted the US government and its population. This war against this tiny invisible enemy has put all high alerts in US soil in its air and border provisions. We are a single region as an aerospace concept; therefore, companies in Baja servicing the U.S. defense sector have shown commitment and solidarity with the support of federal, state and municipal authorities of Mexico providing all our valuable assets and people to continue as good neighbors and natural allies.
What changes do you perceive with the new administration in the United States?
A plentiful of good and valuable opportunities for our aerospace industry and a more comprehensive industrial and commercial path in the US-Mexico border due to the T-MEC agreement, with the expected trillion dollars package that will have ripple effects to the U.S. economy and also to Mexico, and particularly our region.
Regardless of the political environment, the aerospace industry has shown over decades a clear global vision beyond countries. Global mobility benefits and affects us all. Let us embrace the positive and learn from within. There are no baby boomers, nor generation X or millennials. This 2020 created a new generation and it included all of us for a better tomorrow. How about defining us as ‘generation love…’