For some reason I still ignore I was invited this morning to the jumpseat on an Air France B737-500 flying from CDG to HAM. Interesting flight, but one thing struck me on approach:
we were assigned runway 05 of Hamburg airport (EDDH), with a visual NDB approach, and told to descend and maintain 3000 ft (EDDH is at about 50 ft altitude) and hold it. ATC advised us that we would intercept the runway at about 16nm out. Just before turning into the runway heading, the gears were lowered, flaps lowered to 30 and speed reduced to 131kn. At some point, the FO pointed to some point in front of us and said "airport in sight". Unrelated to that, I said "down there is the Airbus factory" (in other words, Finkenwerder airport EDHI) just to point it out to the cockpit crew - EDHI also has a 05 runway and is situated about 10 nm to the southwest of EDDH.
The plane continued to descend to about 2500 when ATC said "please maintain 3000, you are about 14 nm out. The airport in front of you is not Hamburg, this is Finkenwerder". The FO then set the HDG of the AP to 270 degrees, i.e. clearly away from the runway heading - all of this in full landing config, ie gear out, flaps 30, speed 131. We maintained the 270 degree course for about 2-3 minutes and then ATC vectored us back for runway 05.
OK, I am not a commercial pilot myself, but I know the geography around Hamburg quite well and I have flown the STARS into EDDH quite often on my flight sim - so take all of this description as one done by an amateur.
Still, I would like to have a commercial pilot's view on
1) did I witness this plane almost mistaking EDHI for EDDH? The fact that ATC pointed out that there was EDHI, that we suddenly turned away from runway heading despite landing config, that I have never witnessed this kind of slalom on approach to EDDH...
2) is it normal to do slaloms like this in full landing config? I always thought that flaps and gear would only be fully extended once established on the runway heading, or at least just before a final turn into runway heading?
Thanks for any explanations