A drone which passed over the right wing of a large passenger jet near London Gatwick “put 130 lives at risk,” a pilot has said.

The drone – described as “very large, certainly not a toy” and having four blades and a one-metre diameter – almost hit the Airbus A319 as it was preparing to land on 9 July this year.

According to the plane’s first officer, the “startle factor of the drone’s proximity” almost caused him to switch off the autopilot system and take “avoiding action”.

The UK Airprox Board (UKAB) said: “A larger aircraft might not have missed it, and in the captain’s opinion it had put 130 lives at risk.”

The air safety experts have not identified the airline involved nor where the aircraft was coming from. The plane landed safely.

Steve Landells, former RAF and British Airways pilot, said the incident was “another worrying near miss that could have ended in tragedy”.

It was one of 18 other incidents involving drones and other objects investigated at the most recent UKAB meeting.

In July, research found that drones can smash plane windscreens, prompting the Department for Transport to announce plans for a drone registration system.

Mr Landells, who is also a flight safety specialist at Balpa, the pilot’s association, said: “We can’t allow the programme of action to slip.

“Balpa is keen to see details of what this potential new legislation will look like and set a timescale for its implementation.

“We continue to work with the Department for Transport to make sure drones can be safely integrated into the sky.”