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US Approves 'Flying Cow' Drone to Connect Cell Phones in Rural Puerto Rico

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A drone serving as a cellular telephone tower has been approved as a temporary measure to serve rural areas in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria rampaged through the area.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – A drone resembling a miniature helicopter that serves as a cellular telephone tower has been approved as a temporary measure to serve rural areas in Puerto Rico as the hurricane-ravaged US territory struggles to rebuild, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in a press release on Friday.

"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) quickly approved the first unmanned aircraft operation of its kind to help restore cellular service in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria," the release said. "The Flying COW (Cell on Wings) drone, developed by AT&T, functions like a cell tower in the sky, restoring voice, data and internet service."

The drone flies up to 200 feet above the ground and provides coverage for an area of 40 square miles, making it particularly useful in remote areas, the release said.

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Because the aircraft exceeded the 55-pound weight limit required to operate under the FAA’s small drone rule, the FAA issued a special exemption and an emergency certificate of authorization for AT&T to conduct its mission, the release said.

It was not clear from the release how many Flying Cows AT&T plans to deploy. According to a Puerto Rico government website, 63 percent of the island’s cell towers were operating as of Friday.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on September 20, causing extensive damage to the island’s infrastructure and electrical grid.

On Friday Senator Patrick Leahy said in a press release that President Donald Trump's $44 billion emergency supplemental request will not be enough to meet the needs of people affected by hurricanes in US states in recent months.

"The Trump Administration's request does not come close to meeting the needs of victims of recent natural disasters in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands," the release said.

The senator said areas affected by hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey need nearly $180 billion for recovery efforts, or four times more than the amount allocated by the government. He called Trump's package "inadequate" and "downright insulting" to the people of Puerto Rico in particular.

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