The general manager of John F. Kennedy International Airport retired days after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that it was investigating two incidents related to runway lights.

Gennaro “Jerry” Spampanato, 75, stepped down this week after working for 20 years at the Port Authority, which runs the region’s three major airports. On May 30, Teresa Rizzuto, regional manager of the FAA’s safety and standards branch, notified Spampanato that the runway incidents may have violated federal rules.

On May 6, a Boeing Co. 747 operated by Delta Air Lines Inc. bound for Tokyo dislocated a center-line runway light during takeoff, according to the letter to Spampanato. Less than two weeks before, another Delta plane dislodged a similar light at the same runway while landing.

The FAA has established strength requirements for runway lighting to ensure that components won’t come loose and strike a speeding aircraft, according to a 2009 advisory.

Even small items on a runway can threaten the safety of an aircraft. The 2000 accident in Paris that destroyed an Air France Concorde supersonic aircraft occurred after one of the plane’s wheels struck a titanium strip that had fallen off another plane, the French Office of Investigations and Analysis concluded. All 109 people aboard and four on the ground died.

Statement Sought

In its letter, the FAA asked Spampanato for a written statement, including a detailed description of runway and taxiway lighting-inspection practices and pavement maintenance. It also asked for copies of self-inspection records.

All centerline and other runway lights at JFK were inspected after the May incident and are operating in accord with FAA guidelines, Ron Marsico, a Port Authority spokesman, said today.

The Port Authority has also created a task force to enhance maintenance initiatives and invited FAA officials to serve on it. The agency added more electricians to overnight shifts at JFK and plans to hire more of them, Marsico said. He declined to comment on Spampanato’s June 2 retirement.

Delta is aware of the investigation and cooperating with the FAA, said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman.

Rizzuto of the FAA didn’t immediately return a call for comment. Spampanato, who was paid $179,660 last year, didn’t return a call left at his home in East Meadow, Long Island.

Spampanato oversaw all operations at the 4,930-acre airport, including security, finances, capital improvements and the airfield. The manager also deals with the airlines that rent gates at JFK, the sixth-busiest U.S. airport, which has six terminals and employs about 35,000.

With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington and Michael Sasso in Atlanta.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Z. Braun in New York at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at Mark Schoifet, Bernard Kohn.

Tags: jfk, nyc
Photo Credit: A JetBlue aircraft makes its way from the terminal at JFK International Airport in New York February 19, 2007. Keith Bedford / Reuters