According to recent data from the Center for Economics and Business Studies (Centro de Estudios en Economía y Negocios [CEEN]) of Chile, the confidence of foreign investors in the region achieved a slightly optimistic rating, which is up from the neutral level it reached in 2020, and improving its outlook over the general, institutional, regulatory, and social context. Together with Mayra Kohler, General Manager of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce of Chile (Cámara Oficial Española de Comercio de Chile [CAMACOES]), we analyze the current situation in the country, the potential for immediate development, and the sectors that generate the greatest interest from potential investors.
Could you give us a brief overview on the impact of the pandemic in the region? Where are we in the recovery?
As in many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed economic activities, closed jobs, and as a result, growth came to a stop. According to data from the Ministry of Economy, in Chile 2020 was a year that saw GDP fall by 6% and the loss of more than one million jobs. According to the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas [INE]) (2021), the unemployment rate for 2020 reached an average of 10.7%.
Now we could say that we are in the recovery phase, although it is more of a readaptation and reactivation phase— a time for resuming activities in sectors that were put on hold or profoundly transformed by the pandemic and for defining which path to take and how to move forward.
How has it affected the inflow of investment? What is the current situation and where did it come from?
The political situation that Chile is currently experiencing has derived from a certain degree of uncertainty. But in reality, the figures have been pretty encouraging. According to InvestChile, between January and September 2021, foreign direct investment brought profits of USD 15,374 million, which is more than 80% of what was received throughout 2020.
And this is despite the fact that the Central Bank reported a negative flow of investment of USD 789 million in September.
Could you tell us about the characteristics that make Chile such an attractive country for foreign capital?
According to the experience of Spanish companies in Chile, partners of CAMACOES, our country has an institutional and regulatory strength that makes our market continue to be attractive with diverse opportunities for investment. An example of this is the potential in the areas of renewable energies and infrastructure. Chile is a country with a varied and complex geography, which is why it needs good road and port infrastructure so that the supply chain is not affected in any sector.
Climate change also brings opportunities and opens new markets for foreign investors, for example, the search for new ways to obtain water, such as desalination and the reuse of water. Furthermore, there are energy generation alternatives based on renewable sources (solar, wind) that can lower carbon emissions. Or what better example for this than green hydrogen. All this has led to new opportunities for innovation and investment.
Where do the main injections of capital come from?
According to several reports, China is one of the main investors in Chile. In 2019, it reached USD 4,852 million. According to InvestChile, the total recorded figure reached USD 18,448 million, which is equivalent to an increase of 31%; 63.4% of the total of this investment is concentrated in the Energy and Mining sectors.
The European Union is not left behind. From an economic standpoint, the EU is the third-largest business partner in Chile, the number one investor, and the third regional destination for our investments. According to data from the Undersecretariat of International Economic Relations (Subsecretaría de Relaciones Económicas Internacionales [SUBREI]) of the Government of Chile, the EU’s investment in Chile totaled USD 18,228 million in 2019.
What are the main sectors of interest today?
According to our reports, until 2019, out of all Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects, 31.6% corresponded to mining, 23.5% to financial services, and 13.3% to water, gas, and electricity. That trend remained steady. But today, we can also see that foreign investors are seeing potential in Chile in areas such as communications and hotel/tourism.
Could you give us an assessment of the following sectors?
- Renewable Energy. There is interest, progress, and applications of technology and infrastructure that are increasingly sophisticated, but according to the perceptions that we have gathered from our partners, there is a lack of clarity at the legal level and the government needs to generate more incentives for private parties to invest.
- Energy efficiency. There is a need to raise awareness among the population through educational campaigns and for people to take action on the matter also.
With regard to the market, it has become increasingly indispensable that all electronic devices (from a refrigerator to a light bulb) must display labels or some informational element indicating the level of energy consumption. This is undoubtedly significant and highly valued.
- ICT Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have become increasingly indispensable for organizations, whatever their nature. Therefore, there is greater demand, and this leads to the search for the best service. We must not forget that ICTs also generate a carbon footprint due to their energy consumption. Therefore, it is important that efficient and durable data centers be developed and installed, aiming at minimal repair and low energy consumption.
- Infrastructure and transport. Infrastructure faces the challenge of needing to be constructed from increasingly sustainable materials and at the same time account for their quality so that they are maintained over time. In terms of transportation, electromobility is taking its first steps, but like many other topics related to the environment and environmental care, there first needs to be a cultural transformation to assuage skepticism.
Can you tell us about projects in the making or in their startup phase that are boosting investment?
As CAMACOES, we see opportunities in Green Hydrogen. This year, GNL Quintero, Acciona Energía, and Enagás announced a partnership to develop an electrolysis plant to generate green hydrogen from water and renewable electricity, which is looking at an estimated investment of USD 30 million. This is undoubtedly an ambitious and visionary plan that will bring thousands of jobs and will put Chile on the sustainability map as the main producer and exporter of renewable energy. We are also very much aware of what was done in Cerro Dominador, the first solar thermal plant in Chile.
What opportunities will arise in the coming years? Are you expecting new sectors to raise the bar or will trends be maintained?
I believe that the energy, infrastructure, and environment sectors will remain the main incentives for foreign investment in Chile. In general, what will determine the success and durability of companies, in any sector and country, is their ability to adapt and incorporate new social demands: gender, inclusion, diversity, community relations, innovation, and care for the environment. Any company that knows how to read those indicators well will have opportunities in the coming years.
How important is technological development and innovation in these sectors?
Absolutely. Technology and innovation enable energy and infrastructure to meet quality, legal, and environmental standards; to produce efficiently and competitively; to develop new products and solutions; and to put people and the satisfaction of their needs at the center. Technology and innovation will be the compass that guides the success and survival of organizations.
Mayra Kohler Rodríguez, General Manager of CAMACOES and Director of the OTIC (Organismo Técnico Intermedio de Capacitación [Intermediate Technical Training Agency]) of CAMACOES.
She has held various corporate positions in the areas of Public Affairs, Corporate Communications, and Stakeholder Relations in companies such as Santander and in the Chilean Safety Association (Asociación Chilena de Seguridad [ACHS]). She began her career as a journalist in the field of Economics and Business at the newspaper offices of El Mercurio and Diario Financiero. Master’s degree in Communications and Social Development from the London School of Economics; bachelor’s degree in Social Communications and Journalism from PUC (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile [Pontifical Catholic University of Chile]).
The most important technologies in the structuring of this space will be those that have a greater digitization and that allow for the automation of services. According to the ITG specialist, “the management of conventional air navigation, known as ATM, whose most distinctive element is the controller, is not very automated and still has an analog component”, something that is unviable in the anticipated hustle and bustle of the U-Space. For this reason, it is necessary to “advance toward the automated management of this traffic, with a high component of Artificial Intelligence and systems that obtain a precise positioning in real time and fully digital communications, as well as the use of Cloud and similar technologies for the scalability of the services involved in thousands of simultaneous operations.”
For the implementation of these spaces, ITG indicates the need to overcome five major challenges:
- Understanding – with common and agreed-upon procedures – between the manned and unmanned aviation, in order to facilitate their coexistence in the same airspace.
- Achieving a higher level of automation, enabling the safe management of a growing number of drones.
- Ground infrastructure that allows for communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS), thus facilitating the operation of aerial vehicles and their precise positioning.
- Development of the regulatory framework and standards and means of compliance that allow for the processes and requirements to be defined for certifying the different technologies that will then be deployed.
- Public acceptance, which in turn entails overcoming many other challenges, such as noise, the benefits of use cases, privacy, etc.
The deployment of the U-Spaces would also produce positive effects on the region. The first, and most obvious, is the growth of the UAS industry and the creation of operating companies. “Drones should not be seen as a means that will replace what we already have,” explains Enrique Ventas, “but as a complement that will strengthen and expand the benefits of certain operations.” In addition to this industrial momentum, which would promote new business models and economic growth, there are also direct advantages for citizens, who would have new logistical tools within their reach. All use cases are already under testing, and some may be seen in Santiago de Compostela in September 2022, where ITG will coordinate the flight tests of the AMU-LED European project.
Another expected benefit is the decrease in emissions, thanks to the activities carried out by electrically powered drones, which would also entail greater efficiency.
Although approval was granted in April 2021 for a basic guidelines framework for the environment that houses a U-Space, where the main activities and responsibilities of the participants are defined, an adequate regulation for certifying aircraft or services is still needed, according to the expert, as well as a basis for the development of vertiports or the minimum specifications of CNS infrastructures. “For this, testing at trial sites like ours is indispensable, as they feed future regulatory developments with quantitative data,” he explains.
As ITG assures us, in order for the evolution towards a U-Space ecosystem to be successful, it is necessary to comply with all the institutional, risk, and technical terms that may be required. “Even when the technology is considered mature, it is essential to perform specific trial tests. As in other industries, the number of hours of operation is vital to collecting data and drawing conclusions, hence the importance of carrying out everything step by step in the deployment.”
Regarding the roadmap for the successful implementation of these spaces and the expected terms, Enrique Ventas is cautious. “The ecosystem will be growing gradually, and not overnight as it is sometimes led to believe.” The next milestone marked in the calendar will take place in January 2023, when European regulations enter into force and the first deployments begin to be seen. Until then, industry efforts focus on adapting technology, preparing system providers, and defining airspace volumes. At the same time, work continues in updating and expanding the regulatory framework, and allowing them to coexist and operate more complex U-Space aircraft and services in the medium term. “It is expected that the next evolution will be seen in 2024 or 2025, and perhaps the first certified and operational air taxis in European cities. Beyond that date, at the pace that the industry grows and technology is being developed, making a prediction becomes quite complex,” he concludes.
Testing Center of the Instituto Tecnológico de Galicia
Today, the ITG has a fully operational testing center, ANCORA, and another one under development that will expand its capabilities and conduct testing in urban environments. This center specializes in light UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) available to companies and institutions that require integration and validation tests for coordinated air-sea operations, BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight), night flights, and direct sea access. Since its creation, it has had multiple successes, such as the testing of its autonomous hangar that allows works to be performed unattended or the campaigns promoting the CERVERA IMOV3D network of excellence, where it works together with three other technological centers (CATEC, AICIA, and NAITEC) in the development of advanced air mobility in Spain, and was one of the two scenarios where testing for the European U-Space project DOMUS was carried out.
One of his latest successful cases was the validation test of the tool developed by ITG in collaboration with NTT Data, which allows for U-Space services. With these tests, the possibility arose in 2020 to participate in a European project, AMU-LED, with the purpose of demonstrating how to deploy the concept of U-Space in urban environments.
Enrique Ventas García is R&D supervisor for the UAS Division of the Instituto Tecnológico de Galicia (ITG). Aeronautical engineer, he has experience in air navigation for manned and unmanned aircraft. He has led R&D activities and projects for the company Ryanair as part of the Single European Sky (SES) initiative, as well as ITG initiatives developed within the scope of urban air mobility.
He has been a member of various international forums during his career, such as the Network Directors of Operations Group (NDOP), the Network Directors of Technology Group (NDTECH) and the Industry Consultation Body of the European Commission. At state level, he currently represents ITG in the Spanish Aerospace Technology Platform (PAE) and coordinates the U-Space flight and deployment campaign that will be carried out in Santiago de Compostela in 2022 as part of the big European demonstration project AMU-LED, among other initiatives.