The youngsters Vicente Padilla and Antonio Gómez-Guillamón (bottom left), who dreamed of starting a business together. / SUR

Aertec Solutions: 25 years of flight in Malaga

In 1997, two young engineers set up the aeronautical engineering company that today has 650 employees, is an Airbus supplier, and has worked in 160 airports worldwide

NURIA TRIGUERO

Few people know that the founders of Aertec Solutions are the relatives of a pioneer of aeronautics in Spain: General Félix Gómez-Guillamón, who was decorated by King Alfonso XIII for his achievements in flying competitions and also founded the first aeronautical magazine published in Spain, 'Motoavión'. General Felix passed on his passion for flying to several of his grandchildren who used to run around the garden of his house in Pedregalejo. And so it was not surprising that his grandchild, Antonio Gómez-Guillamón, and Antonio's cousin, Vicente Padilla, studied aeronautical engineering.

Once they graduated, their paths diverged: Vicente went to the United States to work at Boeing and Antonio stayed in Spain. The entrepreneurial bug was born in letters they exchanged across the Atlantic. That grew and took shape when Vicente returned to Spain and met Antonio at Gamesa Aeronautica.

"We wanted to create a company and it was clear to us that it would be in Malaga but we didn't have a defined business model. We started by providing support to a quality control engineering company that needed an aeronautical engineer for some projects," recalls Antonio.

Setting up an aeronautical engineering company in Malaga when the industry was so concentrated in Madrid was difficult, admit the founders of Aertec, which was Aerotec for the first few months, until they realised that there was already a company with that name.

And although the duo maintain that more than visionaries, they were "foolish", they have the merit of having been among the first brave ones to have taken a bet on Malaga's TechPark.

"We had an interview with Felipe Romera and we liked the image that the Park gave, although at that time there were almost no companies there. The other elements that later attracted so many technology companies to Malaga, such as the airport and the University, were already there," Antonio says.

That lack of an initial business model ended up playing in their favour.

"The first year we were exploring the market and decided to focus on airport engineering. We realised that peripheral airports were underserved precisely because all the engineering firms were in Madrid," Antonio says.

"One thing we have done well is to read the market and adapt to it," Vicente adds.

It was Fuerteventura airport that gave them their first opportunity to develop a nationwide project in 2000. Just one year later they signed their first international contract with Luton. That was a key year: Aertec also won its first order from Airbus, which led to the creation of the aerospace division.

"The decision to assemble the A400M (the European military aircraft) in Seville was a great opportunity," says Antonio Gómez-Guillamón. And the firm became a strategic supplier to the aeronautical giant.

Aertec took off. Contract by contract, airport by airport, the Malaga-based company flew fast in the 2000s, but kept a cool head. No crisis has affected it enough to compromise its viability or force it to make abrupt turns.

The 25th anniversary sees Aertec recovering with vigour from the turbulence caused by the pandemic with projects in 40 countries. This year Aertec is growing at 33 per cent and expects to be very close to its 2019 turnover of 33.5 million euros. By 2023, the budget is expected to exceed 35 million euros. "We think we can continue to grow by 10 per cent a year," Aertec's founders point out.

Today's Aertec is diversified and has a strong technological character: the classic airport and aeronautical divisions are joined by drones and unmanned aircraft – the company designs and manufactures its own devices – and aerospace and defense systems.

Aertec Solutions has 650 employees distributed among its offices in Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Colombia, the United States and Abu Dhabi. The main office remains in Malaga and the workforce is growing, although not at the desired pace.

"We could be turning over more if we could fill certain vacancies. I don't like to call it a problem, but I would say that our biggest challenge at the moment is to employ enough engineers," says Antonio, who points out that this is a "global problem, not just in Malaga."

The future holds many options to diversify. Antonio says: "We want to be a reference in the aerospace industry and airports. But there are also many opportunities in emerging sectors such as sustainable aviation or 'urban e-mobility'.

"We are talking about urban air mobility – very short-radius flights with multirotors," says Antonio, who agrees with his cousin and partner that, although technology permeates everything, "Aertec's success is its people."

"What we have done best is to surround ourselves with a team that has fallen in love with the project and made it their own. We are a knowledge company and the knowledge is in the people," Antonio adds.