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I flew from MUC to TXL recently and made a weird observation. I was sitting in the port side of the plane and -just a few minutes before landing- saw a red light at approximately our height just before our wing tip. "Ok, I thought, that's odd. That other plane appears to be flying in the opposite direction but it cannot have just started, so maybe a holding pattern or something". While I was pondering that our plane switched on the landing (?) lights. And to my irritation that other plane did as well. "If they are about to land, should they not be behind or in front of us?", I thought.

But what irritated me the most was that the relative position (i.e., the bearing) of that other plane did not change at all. I've learned in boat school that another object with a constant relative bearing is probably on a collision course. It could also be on a parallel course with the same speed, but we were descending towards the airport - TXL does not have parallel landing strips AFAIK. I have no idea how far away that other plane was.

So here are my questions:

  1. Is my assessment of the situation correct or do I miss something?
  2. Is there a point during a landing approach were planes can be on a collision course (because one or both are to make course changes), I always thought that planes would be arranged in some long line twoards the airport, much like a highway.
  3. When is it a good idea to mention such an observation to the crew? How would one do it without looking like a busybody?

edit: Thanks to the great comment about flightradar (I did not know about the playback), I could sort out what probably happened.

  1. There was indeed a flight on a collision course. A plane from STR on its way to TXL came from the south. We came (roughly) from south-southeast. Our flight paths would have crossed somewhere north of TXL. We turned right into the queue first, the other plane did the same, but slightly behind.

  2. A third plane heading southwest crossed roughly (from my perspective) the line between the two planes.

So I must have seen the third plane first and then the second plane. We were indeed on a collision course, but with a rather large distance and with both planes scheduled for right turns.

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    $\begingroup$ You can go to flightradar24 and see exactly what aircraft you saw and its relationship to your plane $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Nov 22 '18 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ It almost sounds like you're describing a reflection of the aircraft you were in, but I don't know what conditions would allow that. Did you actually see the other aircraft, or just its lights? And were you in clouds? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 22 '18 at 19:27
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You have made an initial wrong assessment, Berlin Tegel Airport (IATA:TXL ICAO:EDDT) does indeed have parallel runways (08L/R 26L/R) according to the jeppersen plate. Also backed up by looking at google maps.

I cannot find any confirmation that they perform parallel landings, however based on your witness account we can analyse your question.

I was sitting in the port side of the plane and -just a few minutes before landing- saw a red light at approximately our height just before our wing tip

If you're sitting on the PORT (left) side, and saw a red light on another aircraft then it was travelling in the opposite direction. It is possible you saw the red light on your own aircraft as well as another aircraft, where you couldn't see their navigation lights

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So let's assume the latter, that you saw another aircraft and it was travelling the same direction as you. Many airports perform parallel landings, it is not that uncommon.

Is my assessment of the situation correct or do I miss something?

No, your assessment was wrong. You missed that there are 2 parallel runways.

Is there a point during a landing approach were planes can be on a collision course (because one or both are to make course changes), I always thought that planes would be arranged in some long line twoards the airport, much like a highway.

Aircraft are queued up as you expect for single-runway landings, but where there are multiple parallel runways, if conditions & procedures allow, then they can be brought in together. Aircraft tend to not make course changes on final approach.

When is it a good idea to mention such an observation to the crew? How would one do it without looking like a busybody?

Almost never, you are not armed with all the information you need. Related: What do flight attendants do if a passenger asks what is going on in case of a potential emergency? and What things can a passenger look out for, to indicate an emergency?

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer, see my edit for the conclusions based on flightradar. Apparently I have seen two different planes. $\endgroup$ – choeger Nov 22 '18 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ TXL runways are much too close for proper parallel ops. Most of the time, they use one runway for takeoff and the other for landing. As the airport is operating at capacity, often you see takeoff clearance given while the landing aircraft is crossing the threshold, so in case of a go-around the takeoff can still be rejected. No parallel landings are performed due to close spacing of runways. $\endgroup$ – Cpt Reynolds Nov 22 '18 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ This would be a good test question. If you are sitting on the port side of your plane and see a plane flying next to you, it's starboard light will be ... green! $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Nov 25 '18 at 11:49

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