Aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts has rejected MPs’ allegations that the government has failed to support the aviation and travel sectors.

Courts also has dismissed claims that the Department for Transport (DfT) failed to fight on the industry’s behalf in government.

Appearing before the Transport Select Committee of MPs on Wednesday, Courts insisted: “I entirely reject the suggestion that the government has not stood by the sector.

“The sector has been the beneficiary of economy-wide support. The aviation sector has benefited from £7 billion [in government support].”

Industry leaders continue to demand sector-specific support for travel as the domestic economy opens up but international travel remains shut until at least May 17, when only a partial and restricted resumption may be possible under a new traffic-light system for assessing countries.

MPs on the select committee asked the minister what support aviation and travel could expect in light of the later restart and what support might be available if travel remains restricted through the summer.

Courts told them: “I’m not going to speculate about what we might do in specific circumstances.

“Our focus at the moment is wholly on restarting international travel. We’ll publish later this year a strategic framework for the aviation sector.”

He dismissed a suggestion by Scottish National Party MP Gavin Newlands that the DfT had failed to represent the industry within government, insisting: “You have a group of ministers in the Department for Transport who are passionately committed to the industries they represent.”

Courts argued: “This is difficult for the sector. It is challenging, obviously, for a sector that is international. But it is challenging because of a global pandemic. It has been a massive challenge for every country.

“We have stood behind the industry with billions in support and now we are seeking to help it restart by making sure we have in place a framework that is sustainable and robust.

“We are looking to get people back flying, sailing and on trains as soon as we possibly can.

“I understand the impact this has had. We are trying to unlock travel safely. The key thing is not to undermine the success of the vaccination programme. We don’t want to go backwards.

“We want to unlock travel but it has to be safe and irreversible.”