Northern Pacific Airways (Anchorage Ted Stevens) is facing legal action from the BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) which claims to own the rights to the Northern Pacific brand name and marks. BNSF launched the suit on October 21 in the US District Court (Northern District of Texas).

BNSF operates a railway network that takes in 32,500 route miles in 28 US states and three Canadian provinces and operates over 1,200 freight trains a day. In their sights is Float Alaska IP, LLC, the parent company behind Northern Pacific Airways, a startup airline with ambitions to link the US with North Asia via Anchorage.

In BNSF's complaint, viewed by ch-aviation, the railroad company says its predecessors have been providing railway transportation services in association with the Northern Pacific brand since 1893. In 1970, Northern Pacific Railways merged with other railways to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. That entity and Santa Fe merged in 1995 to become the Burlington and Santa Fe Railway, which rebranded in 2005 to the BNSF Railway Company. BNSF retains title to three Northern-Pacific brand registrations (US registration numbers 3,421,163; 3,421,164; and 5,007,556).

Referring to the Northern Pacific Airways website, the complaint says "the website makes prominent use of its claimed Northern Pacific mark in association with its planned offering of airline transportation services. This use is the exact same mark that BNSF and its predecessors have used for over 120 years."

Represented in court by the Fort Worth law firm, Whitaker Chalk Swindle & Schwartz, BNSF is asking the court to confirm a federal trademark infringement in violation of Lanham Act § 32 (15 U.S.C. § 1114(1)); confirm that the airline has engaged in unfair competition, false designation of origin, and false descriptions in violation of the Lanham Act § 43(a) (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)); find Northern Pacific Airway's mark applications are invalid because of fraudulent procurement; and rule that the carrier is engaging in unfair competition under Texas common law.

The railroad company wants a permanent injunction issued preventing Northern Pacific Airways from using the Northern Pacific brand and marks, all online and physical materials bearing the brand names and marks destroyed, and other relief as the court sees fit.

In response to a BNSF application, US District Court Judge Mark Pittman issued a summons to Float Alaska. The company has 21 days to respond. ch-aviation has approached North Pacific Airways for comment.