How an operations enthusiast went from producing frozen pizza to recycling glycol

Aeromag’s Changemakers September 25, 2022
The Portraits of Changemakers series focuses on visionary individuals who work at Aeromag and who, every day, demonstrate a willingness to make a difference in the world. Among them, Mark Vilcek, Operations Manager at our Montreal RRR (Recover, Recycle, Reuse) recycling plant.

“Before I started working at Aeromag, I didn’t know that planes were deiced in the winter,” says Mark. Five years ago, he walked into unknown professional territory. After being hired as a Deicing Technician, he completed his training and went on to become a Bay Lead. Things were running smoothly for Mark until a new opportunity caused an unexpected change of plans.

A Life-Changing Announcement

While he was working as a Bay Lead, then Operations Manager Ghislain Bergeron announced that he would be retiring from the recycling plant in the near future. YUL Station Manager Réal Lépine knew that Mark already had experience in manual work and operations. “He asked me if I wanted to give it a try!” From that moment on, Mark’s professional trajectory took a new direction and headed towards glycol recycling.

Soon enough, the recycling plant started to take up more time in his schedule, which he was still sharing with deicing up to that point. He later joined the facility full time and, in 2019, became its new Recycling Facilities – Operations Manager.

A Longtime Passion for Operations

Speaking with Mark, there’s no doubt that you are in the presence of an operations enthusiast and a real problem solver. How can you prevent equipment breakage? How can you make sure quality standards are upheld at all times? Mark was interested in these questions from the very beginning.

“Since I’ve worked in manufacturing before, I felt compelled by the idea of working in a state-of-the-art facility.”

When asked if his previous work experience was in the transportation industry, he replies: “Not at all! [laughs] I was working in the frozen pizza business. Do you know the Stromboli pizza brand? You’re talking to one of its founders.” Although you can’t really compare pizza and glycol, the basic equation remains the same in both industries. “It’s all about supply, processing, and the end product.”

A Keen Observer on the Lookout for Optimization Opportunities

On a day-to-day basis, Mark is responsible for ensuring that equipment is running smoothly and that preventive maintenance is being performed, as well as annual inspections and calibrations. “I also take care of the main movements of glycol between the reservoirs and basins.” Mark’s other responsibilities include the maintenance of the building and the management of a small team who takes care of the automated equipment.

Despite his busy schedule, Mark still finds time to optimize processes at the recycling plant. Even though he does not consider himself “a great innovator,” his approach is still one of a visionary. As a matter of fact, he has developed a preventive maintenance calendar that saves a lot of headaches at Aeromag’s two recycling plants, in Montreal and Cleveland.

“I’m not the kind of person who sits well with leaving the results as they are.”

Mark prefers to question things, analyze a piece of equipment, and seek to maximize its use, without compromising the process. The RRR process in itself is actually a major innovation. “Simply put, we recover glycol from the airport apron, clean it, and evaporate the water to be left with glycol ethylene, which we can reuse.” Everything suggests that this breakthrough technology won’t stop there. Innovative filtration or evaporation methods could speed up the recycling process or allow for a greater production capacity in the years to come.

A Promising Future for Recycling Plants

In addition to keeping the Montreal facility running smoothly and acting as a go-to resource for the Cleveland recycling plant, Mark is also consulted during the process of opening Aeromag stations at international airports. “I find the technology to recycle and reuse glycol fantastic! That’s why I’m happy to be part of the process when more stations are added.”

Preserving the environment being a matter of worldwide importance, Mark believes it’s no longer possible for the aviation industry to act as if nothing has changed. “Back when we first did it, Aeromag was a visionary for simply recovering glycol. You can’t just throw away these substances. More and more airports realize that and are interested in our services.” And what would be his career goal for the coming years? “I would like to oversee all present and future recycling plants.”

Until then, Mark continues to perfect Aeromag’s recycling processes, always ready to share his knowledge with his colleagues. “That’s what makes our staff so qualified. Everyone is there to help each other. It’s a business philosophy you don’t often see. We work like a big family, where the more experienced pass on their knowledge to newer employees.” This team spirit was key for Mark when he started out as a Deicing Technician, as he had never worked in the aviation industry before. Today, he leads the recycling plant towards the future of the aviation industry.

Mark’s passion for operations makes him a keen observer who is able to optimize the processes already in place, but he isn’t the only changemaker at Aeromag! Stay tuned for the upcoming Portraits of Changemakers.