Jan Brueckner, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in aviation, public and urban economics, said the shortage of pilots is not unique to China. The US faces its own squeeze on aviation talent because many of the current crop of pilots are aged 65, the mandatory retirement age. "It's a combination of increased demand, plus a sort of generational cycle in the population of existing pilots," Brueckner said. "Moreover, airline traffic is increasing very rapidly in Asia compared with other parts of the world, so Asia is going to have the biggest need for pilots."

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