Transport minister Theresa Villiers told MPs on Wednesday she will not be rushed into bringing airlines into the Atol consumer protection scheme.

Villiers said the Department for Transport (DfT) would consult on bringing Flight-Plus sales of holidays by airlines into the Atol regulations only when the Civil Aviation Bill now before Parliament has been passed. This is expected by April 2013 at the earliest.

However, she told Parliament’s Transport Select Committee: “It’s too early to say we are bringing airlines in.”

The travel trade has repeatedly pressed for a commitment to extend the Atol scheme to airlines, in part in return for cooperating with Flight-Plus reforms this April that it sees as merely “a first step”.

Villiers introduced a Civil Aviation Bill to Parliament in January with a clause giving her powers to extend the Atol regulations. She announced the go-ahead earlier this month for extending Atol protection to Flight-Plus sales of flights and accommodation by travel retailers and tour operators.

But appearing before the committee of MPs on Wednesday, Villiers said: “I would be uncomfortable consulting on bringing in airlines before the Bill has gone through Parliament.”

Asked why Flight-Plus sales by airlines could not be brought in immediately, she said: “We need primary legislation to bring airlines into the scheme. We are pressing ahead with giving government the powers to bring airlines in. But before we proceed we have to assess the impact and consult the industry.”

She added: “We are at a preliminary stage and it’s too early to say definitely we are bringing airlines in.”

Villiers conceded there was pressure from airlines not to extend the scheme. She said: “It’s common knowledge that airlines are opposed to this.”

Kate Jennings, head of aviation policy implementation at the DfT, told the committee: “We would expect the Bill to pass through Parliament by April 2013 and expect to consult sometime next year.

“We could act earlier, but we want to see the shape of European Commission proposals [on reform of the Package Travel Directive] first and allow the CAA to work on proposals for the future before consulting.”

She added: “We also understand from the industry that there is an element of consultation fatigue.”

Full details of the Atol reform here