In just 15 years, Morocco has become a major aerospace industry manufacturing hub: the country hosts over 110 companies, comprising over 11,500 employees and generating $1 billion in exports.
Amongst aerospace manufacturers that opted for the Moroccan option, instead of Asia or Eastern Europe, some names stand out: Boeing, Bombardier, Daher, Safran, Thales, UTC Aerospace Systems, and Latécoère. The country has established itself as a global centre for aerostructures and basic assemblies.
But how did Morocco build a growing aerospace sector, when there was virtually no in-country aerospace manufacturing barely two decades ago? For the aerospace expert Kevin Michaels, writing in Aviation Week “the catalyst of the cluster was Hamid Benbrahim El-Andaloussi, a former Royal Air Maroc executive. His company had been a faithful Boeing customer for many decades, yet the aircraft manufacturer had no meaningful activity in Morocco. After persistent lobbying, he convinced Boeing and Safran subsidiary Labinal to create a joint venture with RAM [Royal Air Maroc] to produce wire harnesses for the Boeing 737.” The joint venture, Matis Aerospace, grew rapidly, and new investments soon followed in the mid-2000s, including Daher, Hutchinson Aerospace and notably Safran, the latter opening two large manufacturing facilities.
By 2006, there were 22 aerospace companies in Morocco, and the country gained traction. The GIMAS aerospace industry association, headed by Benbrahim himself, was created in 2007 and aims to accelerate the development of the aerospace sector. “Like Mexico, Morocco had geographic proximity to a major market, a large and energetic talent pool and preferential market access courtesy of a Morocco-EU free-trade agreement. Garnering just 1-2% of European aerospace production — worth more than $100 billion — would create a substantial success story ,” Kevin Michaels says, adding that the Morocco’s political and security stability, and the government’s commitment to improve infrastructures further enhanced the country’s attractiveness for foreign companies.
Morocco has also created specialized schools, including the IMA, modelled after French standards, for personnel training, in order to grow the skill base and better integrate Morocco in the aerospace global supply chain. Creating skilled jobs is a priority for Moroccan authorities, and the aerospace cluster is undoubtedly an opportunity with regards to employment and economic development.
“Given the ephemeral nature of comparative advantage, Morocco must continue its sharp focus on human capital and a business friendly environment,” analyses Kevin Michaels, although the OEM’s focus on cost-cutting, the outlook for Morocco is rather good.
The country’s aerospace cluster is indeed expanding: Boeing recently signed an agreement with the Moroccan government, committing to support the country’s aerospace sector and encouraging suppliers to expand locally. The government hopes the agreement will lead to up to 8,000 new jobs and an additional $1 billion in export revenues annually.
Similarly, Thales is seeking to make of Morocco its “African hub”, and expand both its civil and defence activities. Thales is involved in the expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network, and has also signed various contracts in the fields of cybersecurity, public transportation and defence. The French company will notably build a 3D printing facility in Casablanca, scheduled to be fully operational by 2018.
Airbus is also present through its Stelia subsidiary, and the company is building €40 million facilities that will manufacturer components and spare parts for Airbus’ airliners, creating up to 800 jobs through 2018. Latécoère shortly followed, announced a €11 million investment to build a new factory close to Casablanca, through its LATelec subsidiary.
Lastly, one could mention Bombardier’s presence in Morocco: the Canadian manufacturer invested $200 million in the “Midparc” aerospace hub close to Casablanca Airport (and IMA school), specialized in aerostructures. Bombardier’s manufacturing platform opened in 2013, and created over 800 direct jobs, with an expected 4,500 additional indirect jobs.
Morocco’s industrial plan for 2014-2020 targets 500,000 new jobs in the industry, including 23,000 in the aerospace sector, aiming to bring in 100 new investors in the country, generating over $1.6 billion in new export revenue. In a May 2016, The Economist named the Kingdom “a rising star in the west” and cited its aerospace cluster as one reason for optimism.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.