THE young pilot nicknamed “Baby Branson” is back in action as an airline entrepreneur, four years after the collapse of his first venture.

Martin Halstead welcomed his new aeroplane to Oxford Airport at Kidlington this week, and will start weekday flights from Oxford to Edinburgh on March 1. Sales of the once-a-day flights have been going so well that his company, Varsity Express, will start a second flight via Newcastle on April 5.

The former Abingdon School pupil, who abandoned his A-level studies to train as a pilot, shot to fame in 2005 when, aged 19, he started Oxford-Cambridge flights.

However, that venture, which saw him compared to Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, collapsed six weeks after flights started. Mr Halstead 23, said: “One of the keys to my agreeing to being involved in this new project was that it should be incredibly well funded."

The new Edinburgh flights are backed by a consortium of property developers and entertainment industry tycoons, including David Lawrence, whom Mr Halstead met through their shared hobby of flying.

Mr Halstead said he had invested a small amount and had share options which will pay out if the venture is a success.

He said the Oxford to Edinburgh flights in an 18-seat Jetstream were selling so well that they had brought forward plans for a second flight.

The new service starts on April 5, leaving Edinburgh at 9.30am and returning from Oxford at 2.30pm, landing at Newcastle Airport en route.

In the five years since the Oxford-Cambridge venture collapsed, Mr Halstead said he had been working as an airline pilot. He also had an interest in DMR Music, a new music shop and recording studio based in Oxford's High Street, which shut down a few months after opening.

He said: "The great thing is that I learned a few lessons from the venture five years ago. It taught us what you need to do."

He said they had a better website for online booking, for example, and 80 per cent of bookings had been via the Internet.

Varsity Express employs about 20 people, including flight crew, operations department, a shared call centre and marketing team.

In the first two weeks, where every seat is £49 one-way, he said bookings had been especially high north to south. Witney-based company Great Experience Travel is helping to market and promote the route, with hotel and golf packages.