With a primitive road system and poor access to refrigerated transport, Bolivia used to rely almost entirely on airfreight contractors to fly fresh meat from the low lands in the "Beni" to its capital La Paz, Appropriately named El Alto, the High One. La Paz airport sits on a massive plateau 300m above the city, ranging from 3,800 to 4000m above sea level. The muddy oil soaked ramps of El Alto used to be home to dozens of "Carniceros" (or meat haulers). With their aging piston engine airliners, such as the famous DC-3 "Dakota", C-46 "Commando" and Convair liners, also known as "Skytrucks", they risked their lives by crossing the towering snowcapped peaks. Their final destination the numerous ranches in the Beni lowlands
The scene on El Alto′s cargo ramp was like a time warp back to the 1950s and 1960s, when piston airliners dominated the world′s flying routes. Most of the heavy props were parked between the freight sheds, most of them looking dilapidated. Due to the lack of hanger-space or suitable buildings all maintenance was done out in the open. Many poorly paid "mecanicos" lived with their entire family including a pack of dogs near or underneath the aircraft. They were very skilled and from time to time, some of the incredible hulks lying around El Alto were seen back in the air. Many of the old propliners could be identified by their previous operators′ paintjobs. Unique paintwork and/or logos were pure luxury; more important was the company′s name on the fuselage. Most operators owned just a single aircraft and if it crashed it was simply repaired or replaced by fixing up the next available hulk.
The Bolivian skies have seen many airliners come and go, but there was one exception: Frigorifico Reyes. This once proud company was the largest freight hauler in Bolivia, established in the early 1970s. Fri Reyes was well-known due to the fact that they operated the last two Boeing B-17s in commercial service. Their fleet consisted of Convair 240s, Douglas DC-4s and DC-6s and Fri Reyes stopped all flying in 1989.
There was plenty of work for the "Carniceros". Surface travel between La Paz and the province of Beni was time consuming due to the rugged terrain and poor roads. The market price for fresh meat at the time was six time higher in La Paz. This was an attractive situation for the entrepreneurs, but a high risk for the meat haulers. During the peak of the meat hauling operations, almost every month a Bolivian propliner transport would be involved in an incident or a major crash. Many destinations were in the Beni, to places like Trinidad, Rurrenabaque, San Borja, Reyes and Santa Ana. Some were just grass strips with a wind sock. Whenever a meat hauler arrived it would be loaded with the freshly slaughtered meat, as the local facility had no freezers. A speedy turnaround was of the essence, and the "Carniceros" wasted no time at the farm and took off for La Paz. If everything went according to plan the slaughtered meat would be on the market within three hours.
Based in Cochabamba: Aerovias Las Minas (ALM), Lineas Aereas Canedo (LAC), North East Bolivian Airways (NEBA), Transportes Aereos Luwinor (TAL), Transportes Aereos San Miguel (TASM), TAVIC (Transportes Aereos Virgin Del Carmen). Based at La Paz: Aerolineas La Paz Ltda, Air Beni, Bolivian Air Flying International (BAFIN), Commercialisadora Aerea Boliviana (CAMBA), Compania Aerea Nacional (CAN), Cooperativa Aerea De Transportes Ltda (CADET), Compania Boliviana de Aviacion (CBA), Eldorado Empress Transportes Aereos (ETA), Frigorifico Ryes (FR), Frigorifico Santa Rita (FSR), FRIMO (Frigorificos Movima), Servicios Aereos Boliviano (SAB), Servicios Aereos del Oriente (SAO), Servicios Aereo Santa Anna (SASA), Socieded Beniaria (SABENI), Transportes Aereos Bolivar (TAB), Transportes Aereos Illimani (TAI), Transportes Aereos Kantuta (TAK), Transportes Aereos La Cumbre (TALC), Transportes Aereos Samuel Selum (TASS), Transportes Aereos San Jorge (TASJ), Tranportes Aereos Tadeo (TAT), Transportes Aereos Yacuma (TAY), Transporte Aereos Unidos Ltda, Tauro (Universal). Based at Santa Cruz: Transalfa (Transportes Orientes (TO), Transportes Aereos Tampa TAMPA
This small cargo airline was based at La Paz and began operations around 1980 with a single Convair CV-440 (CP-1737). After it was lost in an accident another Convair was obtained from Fr-Reyes.
Yacuma was another small cargo company founded in 1981 based at La Paz. It flew a single Convair CV-340 (C-131) CP-1676 which came from surplus USAF stocks.
Fri-Reyes, or Frigorifico Teyes was the largest of the so-called "meat-haulers" from El Alto. The had been flying from the 1960s and became famous for the last airline to use the Boeing B-17s well into the late 1970s. The also operated a collection of eight Convair CV-240s from surplus USAF stocks. Four DC-4s were also purchased in the late 1970s. In 1981 Fri-Reyes acquired all surviving piston engine aircraft from Faucett in Peru, namely two DC-4s & two DC-6s.
TASS or "Transporte Aereos Samuel Selum" was founded in 1984 and was based at La Paz. It used mainly the two Martin 404 aircraft. One of them was lost in an accident after take-off from La Paz on April 7th 1990.
Empresa Transportes Aereos was another La Paz based cargo airline, founded in 1977. During the 1980s they flew a single C-46 and a single bare metal DC-6. However the C-46 was lost in an accident in January 1988 when it hit a mountain near La Paz, leaving the DC-6 in operation until it was sold to CAN in the same year. The ex-American Airlines DC-6 carried a "Pink Panther" symbol on its tail.
"Cargo Aereo Transportada" as its name implied, was another outfit in El Alto (La paz). It has relied on the twin engine Convair during the 1980s, at least four CV340/440s having been used. One of the Convair 440s (CP-2025) carried a bold red and blue color-scheme.
Eldorado was another small cargo-hauler operating a single Curtiss C-46 from El Alto since 1980. Their flagship C-46 CP-1617 carried a striking yellow gold color-scheme.
FRIGORIFICO SANTA RITA
This was another one of the larger meat-haulers based at la Paz. They has been operating from the 1970s using the DC-3, C-46 and a single DC-6. However 1992 was not a good year for the company losing the DC-3 and a C-46. The DC-3 CP-529 was one of the oldest surviving DC-3s in Bolivia and thus survived over 46 years of flying in Bolivia.
Credits: the 1995 Airlines of Latin America, LATIN GLORY – Michael Magnussen and Peter Gunti article "Bolivian Meatwagons" - FlyPast magazine (Sept issue 1986) and Andre van Loon main article. All slides copyright Chris Mak collection.