When Akash Gupta arrived at New Delhi's Palam airport recently to catch a flight to Hyderabad, there was nowhere to sit in the departure lounge. All seats were taken. Every few seconds in the crowded lounge came an announcement that a flight - to Mumbai, Lucknow, Calcutta, Chennai - was delayed. 'I go to Hyderabad regularly to do maintenance on power plants and it's never been as busy as this. Delays have become routine and it feels more like [being in] a railway platform than a departure lounge,' said Mr Gupta. This happens when a civil aviation industry suddenly roars into life, leaving the supporting infrastructure tottering. India's airports, supply of pilots, landing slots and air traffic control were intended to cater to one state-owned domestic airline and only minor modifications have been made at some bigger airports to accommodate two private airlines - Sahara and Jet Airways. Now the industry is enjoying an unprecedented boom as low-cost airlines put air travel within the reach of millions of Indians. The country's first low-cost airline was Deccan Air, launched in 2003 with just one aircraft. Now it has 18. Recently, two other similar airlines were launched - Kingfisher and SpiceJet. Half a dozen more will be launched in the next six months. Last year, the industry grew 23 per cent, making India the third fastest-growing aviation market in the world after China and Japan. Aviation experts expect it to maintain a more than 20 per cent growth rate over the next five years. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa) in New Delhi forecasts that air traffic in India will grow by five million passengers annually over the next 10 years. But the business environment looks squally and turbulent. Take the pilot shortage. About 10 flights are cancelled each day due to a lack of pilots. 'India needs 3,000 to 4,000 additional pilots in the next five years. The shortage of pilots and maintenance workers will have serious repercussions on growth,' said Kapil Kaul, chief of Capa's India office. The airports are shabby, small, inefficient and chaotic. One of the domestic terminals at Palam airport was built to handle 600 passengers a day; now it handles nearly 2,000. Experts say that the government needs to spend about US$400 million to modernise each airport. As for landing slots, there are far too few for the number of airlines popping up. Air traffic controllers, accustomed to the pre-boom days when they handled a limited number of flights, are struggling to cope. The firms launching the new airlines are also coming under scrutiny. Some, like Kingfisher, owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya of the UB Group, or Go Air, promoted by textile tycoon Nusli Wadi's son, Jeh Wadia, represent established and well-known names. The others are less renowned. 'The only model that can work in India is one that offers the cheapest prices,' said Mr Wadia. If these airlines hope to lure some of the 15 million Indians who travel on trains every day, the price has to be rock-bottom or lower.