How de-icing experience can make you a better pilot

The Portraits of Changemakers series focuses on visionary individuals who work at Aero Mag and who, every day, demonstrate a willingness to make a difference in the world. This time, we spoke with de-icing veteran Mathieu Talbot, who started his career at Aero Mag before taking off as a commercial pilot.

A true aviation buff, Mathieu joined Aero Mag at the age of 19. Eighteen years later, he still travels to the Aero Mag station at Montreal-Trudeau Airport to help out the team a few times during winter. And he does it all for the sheer joy of getting back into a de-icing truck.

Learning the skills at Aero Mag

In 2004, Mathieu was studying aircraft maintenance at the École nationale d'aérotechnique when he saw the job offer that changed his life. "The job description for a De-icing Technician caught my eye and I have never looked back," said Mathieu, who was looking for a part-time job while studying. Working at Aero Mag, surrounded by airplanes, was a dream come true!

Once he got the job, Mathieu took Aero Mag’s training, gaining de-icing experience on the Montreal tarmac during the winter months. "I worked about 20 to 30 hours a week on evenings and weekends. During the holiday season, I offered to work even more hours,” he said.

Three months later, the company asked him to become a Bay Lead, a position that usually takes a year to meet the qualifications. He accepted the position before leaving for Côte-Nord to work as a helicopter mechanic during the summer. In the fall, Aero Mag asked Mathieu to come back for the de-icing season, so he went home for the winter and resumed his position as Team Leader. 

"That winter wasn’t easy, but I liked the adrenaline rush," Mathieu recalled.

After working a year as a Bay Lead, Aero Mag gave Mathieu the chance to train to become a Supervisor and Coordinator Traffic & Movements, known as CTM. "That was another eye-opening opportunity," Mathieu added. "It was so exciting to talk to the pilots from the control tower.” 

Soaring to his potential

Because of his training in aircraft maintenance and his experience as a helicopter mechanic, Mathieu was the ideal candidate to assist the chief mechanic at the YUL station. "He trained me and I helped him all summer. In the fall, Mathieu continued to work as a mechanic before returning to his supervisor position. The following year, Aero Mag offered him the position of Director of Operations. 

Mathieu has fond memories of this opportunity and says his time at Aero Mag was very formative for him.  "Aero Mag trained me to be better at everything I did and they taught me how to manage people," he said. "Aero Mag gave me all the tools I needed to do the job.” 

Throughout his career, Mathieu has always conducted training sessions and shared his knowledge. "I helped open new stations, like in Cleveland, Ohio, where I went to give training. Two years after he started, he was already helping to train new employees, either as a Supervisor or as a Bay Lead.

Flying on his own

It was no secret to anyone at Aero Mag: Mathieu's dream was always to become a pilot. "Mario Lépine [President of Aero Mag] always encouraged me. He even called me 'the Captain'", Mathieu recalled. "He always believed in me and anything I wanted to do.” 

Mathieu completed his flight training courses while working at Aero Mag and eventually found a job as a corporate pilot. A few years later, he was named Captain and he is still in that seat today. "My career at Aero Mag was an asset as a pilot. Pilots don’t really know about de-icing.”

Pilots often fly to major airports where de-icing experts, such as Aero Mag, take care of everything. Mathieu’s extensive knowledge of the de-icing process is a bonus when he lands at smaller airports or when he travels to more remote areas. 

"In Northern Quebec, you’re on your own. You're the pilot and the maintenance person. My knowledge has helped me to be self-reliant in some situations." 

Mathieu's expertise also led him to lead a de-icing program where he works. "I applied the best practices I learned at Aero Mag so we could have a safer, more efficient operation. Mathieu also shared his expertise with his new colleagues and helped train them in de-icing to-dos. "I now know that I’m safe when I fly my planes because the staff is trained in de-icing.” 

As chief pilot, Mathieu is back in a position where he must manage both personnel and potential crises. "The tools and training I learned at Aero Mag allowed me to take on more responsibility in my new job. They helped me to move up the ladder more quickly where I work now.” 

Returning to his roots

"I love the job, I love the people," Mathieu replied when asked why he continues to help out at Aero Mag each winter. "They call me when they need an extra hand and I'm happy to get back into a truck.” 

Mathieu takes his work seriously, but he still has a lot of fun when he rejoins the de-icing crew at the YUL station. "After 18 years, I know the work so well, it’s not stressful. I do it for fun! When it's snowing, there are planes everywhere... I totally love it.”

Would Mathieu be flying high if he hadn't worked at Aero Mag? "Maybe, but certainly not with such great tools in my toolbox," he said.

Even though Mathieu no longer works with Aero Mag, he has paved the way for a new generation of changemakers to reinvent our industry. Meet Oscar Garcia, Operations Manager at our Denver (DEN) station. 

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