Senior politicians have slammed the government, demanding support for airlines and airports and the rapid introduction of testing to reduce quarantine restrictions.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May told new aviation minister Robert Courts: “If you want to get the economy moving again, get planes flying. If you want to get planes flying, get testing.”

May insisted: “Testing is the way forward. [But] airports are not even allowed to trial tests. Far from leading the world on this, the UK is lagging behind.

“Stopping people flying into the UK is not going to stop Covid in the UK. It is here. What it does mean is job losses and a negative impact on our economy.

She argued: “This is about assessing risk and mitigating the risks. Trials would provide data – [and] real data is much better than modelling.

“We have to introduce testing in our airports to reduce the quarantine period.”

May told MPs: “That we are having this debate suggests the government does not quite get it. I actually think the Department for Transport does get it.”

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling agreed, telling MPs: “I can’t understand why we are not at least trialling testing on a number of routes.

“We have to do this and we have to do it now.”

Paul Maynard MP, a former transport minister, urged the government introduce pre-departure Covid tests on travellers.

He said: “We have a chance to test people before they board – half an hour before check-in. If they test positive, they would not be allowed to board. It’s simple.”

Huw Merriman, chair of the aviation select committee, noted the aviation sector is worth £28 billion to the UK economy and directly employs 230,000 and said: “Already 30,000 jobs are at risk.”

He urged the government to extend the furlough scheme for aviation, to cut APD “for a time” and called for a reallocation of slots at airports.

Merriman also hit out at British Airways over the carrier’s “absolutely shoddy treatment” of staff as it makes more than 12,000 redundancies.

He said: “There is so much suspicion because BA has tried this before. There is a perception the pandemic provided an excuse for BA to do what it already planned.”

Merriman called on Luis Gallego, new chief executive of BA parent IAG who replaced Willie Walsh at the head of the group this month, “to do the right thing”.

He said: “There is still time. It’s not too late to protect your workforce.”