Well, I guess you could call it an early Christmas present!

We ordered our fuselage kit at the end of August 2016 and it finally arrived at our door at the end of November. We weren’t in any rush as we still had some finishing off to do with the empennage, but once we had saved up enough, we decided to put in the order for our fuselage as we knew there is often a 2-3 month lead time.

I have been putting off making this blog post. I’ve been asked by a few people to write something demystifying the ordering, shipping, customs and delivery process, and to be honest I felt like a bit of a fraud as I really can’t say that we have cracked it yet.

I’ve decided to go ahead and just write what we did and what we experienced, in the hope that someone finds it helpful. Perhaps other builders can add to it, and that next time we do a kit order I can update you with anything new we find out!

Ordering from Van’s

Lessons: Plan ahead.

Van’s have a helpful page on their site showing the prices and lead times for each type of kit. It’s very useful and ensures you can plan well ahead.

It’s difficult to think about the next kit when you’re elbow-deep in bits of empennage and aren’t sure how it will ever come together to look like a selection of tail surfaces(!), but 8-12 weeks is quite a long time so it’s worth being prepared to avoid any downtime between kits.

We found the published lead times to be reasonably accurate (8-10 week lead time specified; we ordered end August and it was ready to ship mid-November ). In reality it’s probably sensible to add a buffer of four weeks for organising shipping and delivery. Our kit took slightly longer than they’d anticipated as the fuel pump was delayed in arriving at HQ, but Van’s kept us informed and offered us the option of shipping without it if we wanted to receive the rest of the kit on time (we decided to wait).

The process to order with Van’s is to fill in an order form with the details (you’ll be assigned a customer number with your first order and need to state it on all future ones) and e-mail it to kits@vansaircraft.com.

As we have decided to go with a modification and use Beringer wheels and brakes, there were certain items we wanted to exclude from the fuselage kit order. This is relatively straightforward as long as you take the time to figure out the part numbers and let Van’s know early. Each part is individually priced and they will just take the amounts off the kit price.

We also added some non-fuselage parts to our kit order because we had messed up some larger items in the empennage (such as the elevator skin) and hadn’t wanted to pay separately to ship a replacement. This is also straightforward as long as you know part numbers, and Van’s will just adjust the kit price to take it into account.


Lesson: Ocean freight could be more trouble than it’s worth.

Shipping quotes are not given until the kit is ready to go, as they depend on the size and weight of the final order once it’s crated. Especially in cases like ours when we had added and removed parts from the standard kit, this was to be expected.

As was the case with our empennage kit, we were surprised that ocean freight was less than USD 100 cheaper than air freight, which would of course be several weeks quicker. We had heard and read some horror stories of people trying to save money by sending kits by ocean freight, only to be hit with enormous delays and unexpected costs trying to get the crate released from the port once it arrived. We had been prepared to risk it if the price was significantly different, but on balance the reduction in time and hassle meant we decided to go with the air freight option.

Van’s give shipping quotes for delivery to your door, which means the firm giving the quote will also arrange for a lorry to pick the kit up at the airport and drive it to you. This is very good in theory, but if (like us) you live down a narrow dirt track in deepest darkest Kent, you will have to have some challenging phone conversations convincing the delivery company that they won’t get stuck with their 18-tonne lorry.

Once the kit leaves Van’s, they send you tracking information and you deal directly with the logistics company to arrange the various stages to get it to its final destination. Ours was done via NNR Global, who were very responsive, but I think Van’s just get a range of quotes at a given weight, size, date and time and give you the best, so you could end up with other companies as well.

We have been lucky that our empennage and fuselage kits have arrived in good condition and the crating seems to protect the parts quite well, however a fellow builder recently sent us some awful pictures showing it’s quite possible for the kit to get bashed around en route, resulting in the need to re-order half the parts.

Customs and import duty

Lesson: Don’t expect HMRC guidance to be helpful or straightforward.

We have definitely not cracked this part yet.

The short story is that civil aircraft parts for personal use are exempt from import duty in the UK, which means you save some money if your incoming shipment is correctly classified. A good theory, but in practice no one really seems to understand how to do it!

We were told by our inspector that we needed to get an End Use Number from HMRC to take advantage of the exemption. Seemed straightforward enough, but to get one of these (as we read online), first you need to apply for an ‘EORI’ number. So that’s what I did. After two submissions of the online form resulted in no reply whatsoever, I sent a third one off and also called them to ask for advice. Eventually I received an e-mail response saying “your application was rejected as you indicated that your goods are for personal use, therefore you are classed as a Private Importer (PI)”.

So my understanding now is that you can only get an EORI number (and therefore an End Use Number) if you’re a business and VAT-registered. For private imports you can’t get a blanket exemption so you have to classify the shipments indiviually and go through the process for each delivery.

From speaking to other builders, we established that we needed to indicate two codes on our shipment and all associated forms that we filled in:

  • Tariff heading:  8803300010 (for civil aircraft kit parts)
  • CPC code:  40 00 028 (for end user relief – simplified procedure)

Van’s are not especially clued up on the UK import procedures, which is fair enough, but they are very happy to mark the crate with the appropriate codes if you specify this when you’re organising the shipment.


Lesson: Patience is a virtue (or something).

Once the shipment arrived in the UK, we had to arrange clearance and provide addiitonal details to the logistics company to allow them to release the delivery and bring it to us by road.

NNR Global asked us for the delivery address and made repeat requests for lots of information we had already provided to Van’s when booking the shipment, and we also had to confirm the CPC Code and Commodity Code again. It’s worth making a note of the details and those codes when you make your order, as you will likely need them again multiple times during the process.

The logistics company’s forms and information requests are very much geared towards large corporate clients and not private individuals, so don’t be afraid to mark something ‘N/A’ or pick up the phone if you aren’t sure how to answer a question.

The procedure now seems to be that VAT and import duty are paid in advance and the import duty can (theoretically) then be reclaimed when the goods are ‘discharged to End Use’, which in this case means using them in the build of a civil aircraft. So after all the research and codes and form-filling, in the end we still had to pay import duty to get the shipment delivered.

In our case the import duty was just over £200, which had to be paid before the delivery would be released. We understand that to reclaim this figure we have to fill out a ‘BOD4‘ form with details of the shipment and proof that we’ve used the goods for one of the exempt purposes. We have been told that we may not be eligible for this refund until the finished aircraft is actually registered, so we will have to report back as and when we have attempted to make the claim!

We may yet come unstuck as we specified on our forms that we would use the kit parts within 6 months (as we thought that was about how long it’d take us to complete the kit), when it seems the date we should have specified was the expected date of registration of the aircraft…watch this space!

Final tip on delivery: The crates are very big and heavy – a tail-lift on the delivery truck is a must, and you’ll need help when it arrives. We spent £9 on a cheap loading trolley from Argos, which meant we could shift the crate down the path and into the workshop once it was offloaded – a very good investment!

Unpacking / inventory

Lessons: Check carefully!

Van’s give you 30 days from the date of delivery to unpack your crate and go through the inventory to check that everything is there. Anything missing you let them know about within 30 days will be re-shipped for free. There are so many pieces and different numbers of each piece required, so it’s inevitable there will be a few errors – this was the case in our empennage kit as well, with a few smaller pieces and attachments omitted.

This time around there were some fairly gaping holes – only one set of rudder/brake pedals, for example – but Van’s were quick to send replacements and did not charge us. By that point (believe it or not!) we had already made our first mistake by mis-drilling a hole in a rib, so we were able to order a spare at the same time and save on shipping.

Frustratingly, despite me, J and my Mum (who came over for breakfast and was not expecting to get caught up in a fuselage kit delivery!) checking the inventory through several times each, we have still since found 1 or 2 additional parts that were either missing to begin with or have got lost so effectively that we aren’t likely to uncover them any time soon, so we have had to bear the (admittedly small) cost of re-ordering those.

Those who have successfully reclaimed their import duty or generally done a better job of navigating the customs clearange process, please get in touch in the comments section as we would love to hear from you!

Happy flying, building and form-filling… 🙂

Em x


RV-14 build: Fuselage kit arrived!

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