Florida Police Arrest Woman for Allegedly Tampering With Flight School Computers

Florida Police Arrest Woman for Allegedly Tampering With Flight School Computers
A small plane taking off from Berlin's now-defunct Tegel 'Otto Lilienthal' Airport in November 2020; used here as stock photo. (Photo: Odd Andersen / AFP, Getty Images)

A Florida woman is under arrest after allegedly tampering with aeroplane records belonging to a flight training school, whose CEO warned that the incident could have resulted in planes with prior maintenance issues taking to the skies.

Local TV station News Channel 9 first reported that 26-year-old Lauren Lide of Brevard County is the main suspect in the breach. Authorities charged her with one count of fraudulent use of a computer and two counts of unauthorised access to a computer system or network.

Lide quit her job as a flight operations manager at Melbourne Flight Training (MFT) in November 2019, the same day the company terminated the employment of her father Hampton Lide, the school’s director of maintenance. Investigators determined that someone using the login of the current flight operations manager made potentially dangerous modifications to flight software, with MFT CEO Derek Fallon writing in an affidavit obtained by the channel that make, model, and tail numbers for 12 aircraft were missing, aircraft reminders were deleted, and some craft flagged as having maintenance problems were “cleared” to take off.

According to Motherboard, Fallon said that he first noticed the changes in the Flight Circle app on Jan. 17, 2020, and grounded all flights. He informed the police of his suspicions that the Lides were behind the incident five days later.

An affidavit in the case written by a Melbourne Airport Police officer states that planes that “may have been unsafe to fly” were “purposely made ‘airworthy.’” The flight operations manager still employed at MFT denied that they had made the changes, and according to News Channel 9, investigators traced the changes back to a computer owned by Hampton Lide:

Investigators determined that the IP address used to log into the software belonged to Lauren Lide’s father. Lide’s father stated he “didn’t have a clue” why his computer had been used to access the MFT computer.

Pressed on if he knew anyone that would want to sabotage the computer information, he said, “I’m kinda concerned about my daughter at this point.”

According to the police, Hampton Lide said his daughter “couldn’t wait to get out of there” and that Fallon had put her through “torment.”

The father “confessed” to sabotaging the flight system, police said in court documents reviewed by News Channel 9, but detectives determined “Lauren Lide is one of only a few people in the area who had the knowledge, skills, and ability to alter” the databases. Investigators reportedly haven’t stated how Lide obtained the current employee’s password to Flight Circle.