We reported earlier that TUIfly Belgium had been contracted by Belgian Defence to operate military charters after the HiFly Airbus A321 formerly leased by the Belgian Air Force had been returned to its owner.
One of these military charter flights involves Boeing 737 MAX 8 registered OO-TMY. On 21 April at 12:19 (UTC+2), the aircraft left Melsbroek airbase (Brussels Airport) with destination Al Minhad airbase in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on flight TB9333/JAF5TD.
About 7 hours into the flight and close to Dubai, while the aircraft had already initiated its descent to Al Minhad, it started circling over the Persian Gulf at FL160. After 40 minutes in a holding pattern, the plane diverted to Hamad International Airport in Doha, while the two Dubai civilian airports and its military base were much closer. While en route to Doha, the squawk indication changed from 1664 to 7700 (emergency situation requiring assistance), probably because the aircraft was low on fuel. Eventually, the Boeing 737 MAX landed at Doha airport at 18:08 UTC (21:08 local time), eight hours after departure.
Three hours later, after refuelling (and probably some paperwork), the flight took off from Doha to reach its final destination, Al Minhad airbase in Dubai, where it landed at 22:20 UTC after a short 47 minutes flight.
After 7 hours in Dubai, the aircraft returned to Brussels as TB9334 without further incidents.
Aviation24.be contacted TUI about the reasons for the diversion to Doha. The only answer from the TUI spokesperson Sarah Saucin (probably due to military secret) was that there has not been any technical problem or emergency with the aircraft, which was carrying military personnel.
Why did Belgian Defence send an aircraft to Dubai? Simple Flying theorises that since Belgium has announced its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will take place this year, Al Minhad airbase (MND) has had a supporting role for foreign troops arriving in the region.
Why the diversion to Doha? Simple Flying thinks that the holding pattern had to do with communicating with Al Minhad; perhaps there was trouble establishing communications or receiving clearance to land from the Emirati government. Perhaps, after multiple attempts to gain permission to land, the aircraft was running low on fuel and thus needed to squawk 7700 to indicate an urgent situation.
Anyway, with a probable military secret, the truth might never emerge.