For all that's wrong with defense contractor and jet maker Boeing (NYSE:BA) you'd think there wouldn't be much to cheer about. From an unsavory caper in January to a lackluster earnings report marred by multiple charges on Wednesday, the company has barely left the starting blocks at the outset of 2005. Till this morning, that is.

During the wee hours as I write this -- please, don't ask why -- Japan Airlines (OTC BB: JALSF) has announced that it will buy 30 new fuel-efficient 737NG jetliners in a deal worth $1.8 billion. That follows on the heels of a December order of Boeing's Dreamliner, formerly called the 7E7 but now known as the more formalized 787. China also got into the act recently by agreeing to pay $7.2 billion for 60 of the fuel-efficient jumbos.

The wins point to an interesting paradox when it comes to Boeing. The airline industry has been suffering for years, yet Boeing's aircraft business has held its own. And it expects better, predicting 385 deliveries next year, according to a Bloomberg News report. That would be a 20% increase over planned 2005 shipments.

Such a dramatic improvement raises the question: Is Boeing back? I wouldn't bet on it. The company was way short of its planned per-share earnings for 2004, coming in at $2.30 instead of the previously expected $2.40 to $2.60. It's worth noting, of course, that the shortfall is due to $0.44 of charges related to closing the book on the 717 and payments related to a grossly mishandled deal with the Air Force. As fellow Fool Seth Jayson has pointed out, the latter scandal really ought to be enough to keep anyone away from Boeing's shares.

Yet, being the bottom-feeder that I sometimes am, I can't help myself. I wonder whether Boeing's increasing capital strength ought to merit my attention. For example, over the past year it has reduced its net debt after cash and securities by $3.7 billion. That's a huge improvement. Still, the company operates in a number of teetering industries and could still go into a tailspin at any time. I just think higher altitudes are more likely.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned, but he dreams one day of flying the Boeing Dreamliner. And the A380, too. For more on the all things related to globetrotting, check out the Best Travel Spots/Tips discussion board here at Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. To find out what's in his portfolio, check his Fool profile, which you can find here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.