QUERETARO, Mexico -- In one part of this central Mexico city, 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 and exported some $4.3 billion in aircraft and parts last year. The Mexican government has set a target of $12 billion in exports by 2020, a figure that would surpass Brazil's and Spain's.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. 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 hope 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.At the National Aeronautics University of Queretaro, Rector Jorge Gutierrez de Velasco 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."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, have also set up production in Mexico.Mexico has an edge in human capital. On a per capita basis, it graduates three times more engineers than the United States. Some 30 percent of Mexico's 745,000 university students are enrolled in engineering and technology fields, and 114,000 of them graduate yearly. Technicians, though, often have to be trained in-house in specialized processes even after training elsewhere.Industries with operations in Mexico have focused on assembly of aircraft structures, precision machining, overhauling engines and landing gear, laying out electrical systems and assembling composite components."There are companies like Zodiac in Baja California that are putting together interiors of aircraft using composites," said Manuel Sandoval Rios of ProMexico, a trade promotion agency. "We are moving into complex materials such as carbon."Mexico's aerospace sector employs 31,000 workers. The goal is 110,000 jobs in aerospace by 2020, Sandoval said. That compares with some 335,000 jobs in auto manufacturing and auto parts.As the aerospace sector grows, authorities hope to expand the number of foreign and local companies that provide parts. Only a few Mexican companies now manufacture key components."The challenge now, just as it once was in the automotive sector, is to ramp up the supply chain and, when possible, develop national suppliers," Sandoval said.Authorities encourage Mexican companies to work with specialized metals like titanium and molybdenum and develop thermal coatings for aircraft parts. In some cases, auto parts firms made a transition. One of those is Grupo Kuo of Mexico City."They make auto transmissions, and they did the design for the Corvette transmission. What we helped them do is create a specialized aerospace division ... that has grown rapidly and supplies both Safran and Eaton," Sandoval said.The Canadian firm Bombardier, the No. 3 civilian aircraft manufacturer in the world, behind Boeing and Airbus, has grown its Mexico operations rapidly. After a worldwide search, it chose Queretaro in 2006 because of its location, low cost of labor and the industrial capabilities of Mexico."The time zone was also very important," said Real Gervais, who until his retirement this month was vice president of Bombardier Aerospace's Mexico operations. Queretaro is in the central time zone, making its workday coincide with Bombardier's other key operations in Wichita, Montreal and Toronto.Since breaking ground, Bombardier's operations have mushroomed, now employing 1,800.Bombardier's production in Mexico includes flight-control components such as rudders, stabilizers and elevators as well as wings and electrical wiring. It now builds major portions of fuselages for its Global business jets here. By next year, the state-of-the-art Learjet 85 composite aircraft will come out of a plant here before being shipped to Wichita for final assembly and testing.