Good news for Boeing (NYSE: BA) investors! On Wednesday, CEO Jim McNerney publicly declared that Boeing will "meet its third-quarter delivery target" for the 787 Dreamliner, confirming that 787s will begin landing at Japan-based All-Nippon Airways landing strips within the next several months.

Too little, too late.

Unfortunately, around about the same time McNerney was making his statement on CNBC, the Wall Street Journal ran a related report delivering Boeing's promise to begin deliveries to Air India (AI) as well, in the final quarter of the year. Problem is, according to AI, those deliveries should have begun two years ago. Boeing should have already delivered 20 Dreamliners to Delhi. The fact that it didn't, says the airline, has already cost Air India $1.32 billion in lost revenue -- which paints an "interesting" scenario for Boeing investors.

Consider that Boeing currently claims 847 Dreamliner orders on its books, with customers ranging from AI and ANA to Delta (NYSE: DAL), AMR (NYSE: AMR), and United Continental (NYSE: UAL). Consider further that the Dreamliner project is already three years late. AI's losses from Boeing's two-year tardiness are probably less than other customers can claim. At a minimum, then, we can hypothesize that delays in delivery of the 787 have cost Boeing customers a combined ...

(847 planes) / (20 planes owed to AI) x (AI's $1.32 billion lost revenues) = $55.9 billion

... or roughly $56 billion in lost revenues across the dozens of customers kept waiting. What, a Fool can wonder, will happen once the Dreamliners finally do get delivered, the damages from the delays become "fixed" in time, and if its customers begin demanding compensation for their accumulated losses?

This, Boeing investors, is the $56 billion question. We've already seen Boeing come to an understanding with Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR) over delays in the 787 program. Perhaps suppliers such as General Electric (NYSE: GE) and Honeywell (NYSE: HON) will want compensation as well?

And what about Boeing's customers? Do Boeing's sales contracts specify liquidated damages in cases of contract breach? Might customers actually sue Boeing for lost revenues, or perhaps only lost profits? If the latter, well, most U.S. airlines eke out a living on 1% to 2% net profit margins, so maybe the damage won't be so bad after all. In Air India's case, the customer certainly has incentive to sue. Prior to returning to operating profitability in November/December 2010, AI had been losing money for years. If there's a chance AI can make Boeing cover some of those losses, I expect it will try.

Secure your tables, and return your seats to an upright position, Boeing investors. 2011 could be a rocky ride.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.