Did Boeing (NYSE:BA) drop the ball on Dreamliner? With deliveries of the new superduper airliner years overdue, fines looming and cancellations abounding, it's hard to argue otherwise. But lately, Boeing has regained its mojo as a series of successful testflights put the plane back on track (albeit, farther back on the track than impatient buyers at Delta (NYSE:DAL) and Continental (NYSE:CAL) might have hoped.)

Meanwhile, over at archrival EADS, they're still fumbling in the dark, wondering where the track even is.

Headlines and the story behind 'em
Boeing's 787 troubles contributed to last year's upset victory by EADS/Airbus in the race to sell civilian airliners. But behind these headlines lies another, more important story: EADS' impending financial disaster.

Now, this isn't a new story -- I've written about it several times before -- but in recent weeks it's taken a turn for the worse. Essentially, the story goes like this: Once upon a time, seven European nations got together and decided they needed a new military transport aircraft -- and they could build it better than Boeing. So began the A400M program, a pan-European project to build something bigger than a breadbox (or a Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) C-130 Hercules) but smaller than the hulking Boeing C-17.

Six years in the making, the four-engine turboprop transport took a successful test flight of its own last month. But numerous delays have the A400M running four years behind schedule, and $7.3 billion over budget -- a significant sum for the $29.4 billion fixed-price contract. EADS initially blamed engine suppliers Safran and Rolls-Royce for the troubles, grumbling that if it could have bought engines from United Technologies (NYSE:UTX), as it wanted, the costs would have been less. But recent audit reports assert this is really a case of EADS' own failure to control costs, plane and simple.

Let's get Mikey. He eats everything!
The seven major A400M buyers blame EADS for the cost overruns, and want the company to eat "a very significant share" of these costs. Today, they'll be meeting to discuss just how significant a share of the A400M costs they're willing to put on their own plates, and how much EADS must fork over.

Whatever the verdict, it won't be good news for EADS. It's already reserved $2 billion against anticipated fines for the delays. Conceivably, it could be forced to repay the sponsor nations' $8 billion investment if forced to cancel the contract. The longer delays run on, and the more costs Europe tries to foist upon EADS, the more relatively attractive the cancellation option becomes.

And who wins then? Boeing's C-17. C-17 suppliers United Tech, Honeywell (NYSE:HON), and General Electric (NYSE:GE) -- basically, everybody but EADS.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Fool has a disclosure policy.