What happened

Boeing's (BA -0.26%) 787 Dreamliner has passed a crucial inspection, and the company has a truce with workers to avoid a strike, at least temporarily. Investors are excited, sending Boeing shares up as much as 6.6% on Monday morning.

So what

Boeing has been flying through turbulence for the last few years. The pandemic reduced demand for air travel, which in turn stalled airline demand for new airplanes. Even before the pandemic, the company was dealing with quality issues stemming from the 18-month grounding of its 737 MAX aircraft following two fatal crashes.

The 787 Dreamliner got caught up in the investigation into Boeing quality control practices following the 737 MAX grounding. Deliveries have been halted since late 2020 as the company and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) worked through ways to inspect for and repair tiny cracks in the Dreamliner's carbon fiber airframe. An estimated 120 of the 787 jets, worth about $300 million apiece at list price, have been built but not delivered during the halt.

Late Friday, the FAA signed off on Boeing's inspection and repair plan, clearing the way for deliveries to resume as early as next week.

Separately, Boeing and a union representing 2,500 machinists working at a St. Louis-area military aircraft plant have agreed to more talks, averting a potential strike. The talks were only extended for a few days but allow Boeing more time to seal a deal with the union.

Now what

It's been a long time since Boeing was operating at anything close to business as usual. These developments don't restore the aerospace giant to its pre-pandemic norms, but they are steps in the right direction.

The Dreamliner return is a huge reputational win for Boeing as it tries to repair its image, and should help the company rebuild its bruised balance sheet. Its total debt has ballooned by more than 400% over the past five years as the company levered up to make sure it had the cash it needed to weather the pandemic.

Shares are up more than 25% from their June lows but still down 50% over the past three years. That's a fair estimate of where the company stands right now: Things are looking far better than they were just a short time ago, but Boeing still has a long way to go to get back to cruising altitude.