The Boeing 747-8F is among the largest cargo freighters in production.
Robert D. "Bo" Strauss can be reached at
Robert D. “Bo” Strauss can be reached at

It was a good thing Robert “Bo” Strauss checked his spam folder that day. 

Buried amid nearly 200 emails offering questionable “treatments” and the usual financial phishing scams was one that caught the Atlanta attorney’s eye, having been marked as junk because it originated in Russia.

“Fortunately I paid attention to that one, because it said something like ‘Boeing 747 expertise sought’,” Mr. Strauss remembered.

That was the starting point for a relationship with a Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group, a group that runs three cargo airlines, that tapped Mr. Strauss and his partner Morris Little at Taylor English Duma LLP for legal advice on a nearly $8 billion aircraft order.

The deal, announced this week at the Farnborough Air Show near London, included an agreement to purchase 20 Boeing 747-8 freighters, a massive order for one of the largest cargo planes around. They come with fortified floors and can be opened at the nose to accommodate large, irregular items, from military tanks to water tanks carrying whale sharks across the world. 

Mr. Strauss and Mr. Little found out that they had been recommended to Volga-Dnepr by a consultant they had dealt with on Boeing deals before. The two attorneys specialize in aircraft purchasing and leasing. Mr. Strauss learned the ropes by advising airlines over the years; Mr. Little spent 12 years as an airplane mechanic for Delta Air Lines Inc. before going to law school, then returning to the airline as part of its legal team for 14 years.

Boeing 747-8Fs can open at the nose to accommodate irregular and large cargo.
Boeing 747-8Fs can open at the nose to accommodate irregular and large cargo.

But not everyone is flocking to Russia for deals. Sanctions put in place in 2014 after the country’s annexation of Crimea are still in effect (though aviation is exempt). And the day after the Boeing deal was announced, a U.S. broadcasting executive was detained and deported upon arrival in Moscow. The countries are slated for talks this week over their divergent views on the war in Syria.

Mr. Strauss, fortunately, carried out his business with the Volga-Dnepr Group via Skype and a few trips to Washington state, where Boeing is based, as well as Houston and London. He even hosted company personnel in Atlanta a few times.

Either way, the group was a cut above what is generally expected of Russian firms, with a level of professionalism and even English proficiency that made him eager to work with them again, Mr. Strauss said. The company carries aerospace cargo itself, has offices in 15 countries and has worked overseas since 1990, according to a Boeing news release. 

“This particular company wants all its people to speak English,” the language of international aviation, “and they do a pretty good job.”

Conversations went smoothly, and the group’s competent, competitive executives from across many business units understood most of what was being discussed, though translation was needed for more technical legal and aeronautical terms, he told Global Atlanta.

“You can know a foreign language pretty well and not know how to say the technical words like ‘thrust reverser’ or ‘discount to present value,’” said Mr. Strauss, who does not speak Russian.

He said the company, which operates AirBridgeCargo Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines, is looking to expand market share in other parts of the world despite a relatively slow global economy. To do so, executives knew they had to provide the best service, which includes operating some of the best planes, Mr. Strauss said.

“This company is a solid and growing company, and they see their business being solid and expanding with China, for example, and India. They want to have affiliates around the world. They are just a good operation,” he said.

Boeing has leased a few of the planes to the company, and the aircraft giant is providing logistics and maintenance support through the deal. But financing hasn’t been ironed out for future deliveries. The Export-Import of the United States has been involved in many Boeing deals, providing loan guarantees and sometimes direct loans to foreign buyers, though the bank isn’t currently considering applications for deals involving Russia. The good thing about airplanes as assets is that they can be moved and leased in parts of the world where they’re needed, unlike real estate, Mr. Strauss said. 

Ultimately, though, for Mr. Strauss, the yearlong process leading to the deal’s culmination a few months ago showed the importance of specialization and being open to opportunities — from wherever they may come. 

“We don’t have a monopoly on it, but there are good people around the world that work on aircraft transactions, and we’re known as among the top tier.”

He and Mr. Little have just begun work with an airline in Cambodia seeking a lease on an Airbus A320. This time, they’re planning to travel to the country before the deal is complete.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...