NEW YORK – The Transportation Security Administration (search) will take over security checks of passengers and baggage at city heliports, several days after police were warned that Al Qaeda (search ) had considered using tourist helicopters as bombs.
The federal government will also check names of passengers against lists of terrorist suspects and conduct background checks on helicopter tour operators' employees, according to a TSA directive issued late Monday.
In addition, tour operators will be required to appoint an on-call security coordinator to answer security questions from the government, the directive said.
Heliport security had formerly been overseen by private security companies.
"These will be personnel in TSA uniform," administration spokesman Mark Hatfield said.
The FBI sent two bulletins late last week to 18,000 police and other government officials nationwide.
"Al Qaeda has apparently considered the use of helicopters as an alternative to recruiting operatives for fixed-wing aircraft," said the bulletin, sent Friday night to police and other government officials nationwide and obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The second bulletin, also sent Friday night, said terrorists could use rental vehicles to conceal powerful bombs, including limousines that have a larger storage capacity than cars.
Both bulletins urge extra vigilance by people who operate car and truck rental businesses and those who handle airport security. The FBI repeated the government's concern that Al Qaeda intends to attack the United States in the next few months, before the Nov. 2 election.
Law-enforcement officials in New York said Monday that evidence recovered in Pakistan showed that terror suspects may have photographed helicopters and taken helicopter rides to gather information about possible targets in the New York area. They said they knew of no plans to use helicopters as weapons.
"Using an aircraft as a weapon ... is nothing new. We learned that lesson on 9/11 at enormous cost," Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search ) said. "Ever since then you've not been able to just go and hop on a helicopter carrying anything."
Security measures including metal detectors and ID checks have been in place at New York helicopters since after the Sept. 11 attacks and no major changes are anticipated, Bloomberg said.
The bulletins followed a week of heightened security after federal warnings that Al Qaeda was surveilling financial targets. Shortly after the warnings, some officials and experts said they were skeptical about the information because much of it was years old.
The warnings didn't stop a stream of tourists from boarding sightseeing helicopters in New York on Monday.
Liz Downie of Edinburgh, Scotland, said she saw the story about the latest terror alert on TV before boarding but had no hesitation about the tour. She had just one complaint about the flight. "It was too short," she said.