Don't kid a kidder

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater is the man with the plans this week, having delivered a series of bombshell initiatives at the DOT-sponsored Aviation in the 21st Century conference in Chicago.

The splashy announcements involved a futuristic collaboration between NASA, the FAA and the Defense Department that will result in "smart" planes that will repair themselves, space-age vision systems that will enable pilots to see through the thickest pea-souper and neural networks designed to keep planes from crashing into each other.

Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with any of this stuff. It all sounds great on paper. Unfortunately, that's the only place any of it exists, on paper. There's no implementation date for these projects, no budget and, perhaps most significantly, no funding.

So, let's recap: In a year when airline passenger rights became part of the national lexicon as well as a hot-button political issue, a year when the FAA and the airlines played a seemingly bottomless blame game about who is responsible for a record number of flight delays, when passenger complaints about merciless treatment at the hands of the airlines are at an all-time high, in a year like that, our good old Uncle Sam suddenly pulls a series of high-tech rabbits out of his stove-pipe hat that supposedly will solve all of our air-gripes? And none of these Jetsonian solutions has a deadline or a dollar attached? Who's kidding whom here?

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